Social Intelligence in the Workplace

Last but not least in this mini series on intelligence: social intelligence, or the social quotient (SQ). I’ll be honest, I left this one till last, because I struggled figuring out why it was so different from a merger of EQ and CQ. Surprise, it isn’t that different. Depending on your definition. I argued (with sources backing me up) that EQ is about your own emotions, and those of others. It’s the latter part where I struggle to differentiate between EQ and SQ. Now, if we take this article, it argues that “EQ is our ability to manage ourselves and our emotions. In the workplace, this means acting and reacting to events appropriately, such as maintaining your composure and ability to perform under pressure.” Whereas SQ is defined as the extension towards other people: “Having a high SQ means being able to understand and successfully navigate the workplace culture. Goleman describes SQ as our ability to be intelligent about our relationships. If EQ is inner-regulation, then SQ is inter-regulation.” Given that Goleman popularized these concepts I’ll take his word for it. Looking more into SQ, I find that I’m not the only one struggling with the definition. Lucky thing is, I have found “where it went wrong.” The term SQ was postulated by psychologist Edward Thorndike, but then got reinvented by psychologists like Howard Gardner and Daniel Goleman. Gardner proposed that there are multiple intelligences, out of which he talked about two important ones intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. According to him, interpersonal intelligence includes sensitivity towards others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations; and ability to cooperate as part of a group. This is seemingly SQ, with a hint of CQ. Gardner then equated it with Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, which is EQ. So that explains that mess. There’s other who argue that SQ is the combination of IQ and EQ (help). And if you look at the article I wrote on EQ, there’s adaptability in there too, and if you read between the lines, you can find aspects of CQ there too. SQ is just the whole damn thing merged. It’s pick and choose. Also, once more, women are judged to be better at this than men. It seems women are judged to have most Q’s at higher levels than men do, except for IQ. Both of these judgements are grounded in sexism and need to be let go off (if you ask me). Why is SQ so messy? That’s probably because a good social interaction requires you to be intellectually, emotionally and culturally intelligent, regardless of the context of the situation (adaptability). So it’s not that weird to end this series on SQ after all. So SQ is messy. But what does this look like on the work floor? Not really that messy. It’s quite clear cut what SQ should look like.

Being able to figure out how your co-workers, colleagues or managees (I can’t come up with the word for the people who you manage) has never been more important than now. Lockdown after lockdown, large uncertainty on job retention and a complete change in location, structure and communication style have left a lot of people tired, overworked, stressed and (close to being) burned-out. Although life goes on, and work goes on for most as well, the original set-up has changed and hitting targets has never seemed as hard, or almost foreign, as it has recently. Living our lives online has not helped either. Although you still communicate with colleagues, co-workers, superiors and inferiors, online just doesn’t always cut it. Lots of signals such as body language and contextual signals derived from a bit of chit-chat before a meeting, or seeing how someone is sitting behind their desk is getting lost. And it’s difficult to have a complete picture of what is going on without these factors in place. Now this is where social intelligence comes in. Well, it’ll have to. On a podcast episode we did with Ali Fenwick, we discussed the many ways in which people coped with working from home in the initial lockdown. He described four coping strategies, and they are fine in their mild forms, but once they turn extreme they are a one-way ticket to being burned out. It’s the job of managers, but sometimes also colleagues, to see that type of change and respond accordingly. And that can take many forms. SQ is really about being able to understand other people’s motivations for their behaviours. Why are they doing what they are doing? Why are they still sending emails close to midnight on a Saturday? Is that their new preferred working schedule instead of 9-17, or are they scared stiff that if they can’t “prove” their commitment to work, because you currently can’t “see” them work, that they’re the first to be fired. What’s going on here? As a manager, but also to some extent as a colleague, you need to know. When in a position of power, it is important that you practice SQ through making sure people feel heard and understood. Your position might not allow you to do much more than that. In these times, it’s difficult to promise you won’t fire anyone. Are you even the one who can ensure that? Don’t make false promises, but do listen and empathize. And give the level of reassurance you can provide.

SQ is a tough nut to crack. There are quite a few studies on it, but I don’t buy into this “women are naturally better at SQ” and as such we should hire more women. Although I agree whole heartedly with hiring more women, I don’t think that is what’s going to really connect the team better, make everyone feel heard and understood, and as such less stressed in these times of great uncertainty. We need leadership that recognizes that their people aren’t robots, have (emotional) lives outside of work, but also have emotions with regards to their work. And if you throw all these people together in a meeting room (or Zoom), things might move in directions we do not necessarily need them to go. A good leader can manage that too. Insert social intelligence here.

Links Differences IQ, EQ and SQ: Six competencies of SQ: