Read an Excerpt
By Karl Albrecht
John Wiley & Sons ISBN: 0-7879-7938-4
Chapter One A DIFFERENT KIND OF "SMART"
"There is one thing more powerful than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." -Victor Hugo
Surely, each of us knows at least one person, and probably several, whose company we do not enjoy. Not rarely do we hear people say things like:
"I dread having to visit my parents this weekend; I just know my mother will pick a big fight with my father, and she'll criticize me the whole time I'm there. I don't even know why I still go to visit them. Guilt, I suppose."
Others may say things like:
"I hate my job; my boss finds fault with everything I do. I guess I'll have to start looking around for something better."
"Maybe we should kind of 'forget' to invite him to go out with us. If he goes along, we'll argue all night."
"I feel like we should invite her to join us for lunch, but I can't bear to hear about her divorce one more time. She can't seem to talk about anything else."
Most of us can more adroitly spot deficits in social intelligence on the part of others than virtues-I know it when I don't see it. We may unconsciously gravitate toward people who have it, but we consciously steer away from those who don't. And those in between, at the middle of the scale of interpersonal competence? We can "take them or leave them."
How many people consider their parents or close family members a negative influence in their lives, rather than counting them among their best friends? How many people have parted company with their families, at least emotionally if not physically? How many parents complain that their children neglect them or seem to have no desire to visit them?
People who enjoy close and supportive family relationships often seem baffled by the difficulties others describe in dealing with their close kin. But even within so-called happy families, certain individuals may treat others in ways that alienate them.
Conversely, most of us have at least a few acquaintances we consider special-people with whom we feel comfortable, respected, affirmed, and cared about. Put two examples of the extremes side by side for a moment-compare a person you tend to avoid with a person whose company you eagerly seek out, and contrast their behaviors. It quickly becomes obvious, not only that one person simply behaves in a more positive, supportive way than the other, but you also get the sense that the positive person somehow knows more about people than the negative one. The positive ones seem to "get it"-they understand people and their interactions reflect that understanding, more than simply consisting of some set of "nice" behaviors.
What we will call social intelligence in this book consists of both insight and behavior. We seek to understand human social effectiveness at a level beyond simple formulas-beyond saying "please" and "thank you," beyond the normal social courtesies, beyond the so-called "people skills" supposedly valued in the workplace. We seek to understand how highly effective people navigate social situations so skillfully, and how they know-at least most of the time-how to engage others in ways appropriate to the context.
To begin with a working definition, we can think of social intelligence, or "SI," as:
The ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you.
OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES?
I've often heard people I deal with every day-from teachers, trainers, personnel people, and conference organizers to business managers, consultants, publishers, editors, and journalists-express a kind of automatic, stereotyped reaction to the phrase "social intelligence." Frequently such a person will say, "Oh yeah-'people skills'-very important in today's world."
By slotting the concept of social intelligence into an old familiar category and recoding it with an old familiar name, they risk misperceiving its potential significance. This sense of the simple and familiar may have held back the perception and understanding of SI as a more deeply layered, more comprehensive view of human affairs. An expression from the ancient tradition of Zen philosophy advises:
"The biggest obstacle to learning something new is the belief that you already know it."
Academic researchers and theoreticians have chewed on the notion of social intelligence for decades, with mostly ambiguous results. As far back as 1920, eminent researchers such as E.L. Thorndike tried to identify a unique set of skills, separate from those associated with the traditional idea of intellectual intelligence, that could measure a person's social competence, and possibly predict his or her success in dealing with others. In the other camp, "IQ" pioneers like David Wechsler, as early as 1939, argued that "social intelligence is just general intelligence applied to social situations." Attempts to correlate measures of sociability with the early intelligence tests yielded inconclusive results. Academics have kept themselves profitably occupied ever since, trying to deconstruct the concept of social effectiveness into an acceptable set of dimensions, or categories, in hopes of designing scientifically rigorous ways to measure them.
Meanwhile, life goes on, and we ordinary civilians have struggled on our own to define the essence of social effectiveness. In the business world particularly, personnel experts, trainers, consultants, executives, and managers have sought to define practical social skills, presumably for the purpose of helping their employees develop or improve, or at least to select the ones who "have it" and place them in the right jobs. This search has also met with relatively limited success.
For many years, and particularly over the past few decades, business educators have talked often about "communication skills," "interpersonal skills" and "people skills," usually with very little in the way of working definitions to support their conversations. For example, many employee performance evaluation forms include a section on communication skills, but mostly leave it to the worker's boss to assess a dimension of performance based on subjective impressions and opinions. Lacking a comprehensive operating definition of these skills, managers and others have little to rely on other than a sense that "I know it when I see it."
Frequently, if I ask a manager who assesses an employee as having poor communication skills, "What particular skills do you see as lacking, or in need of development?" the manager may think for a moment and then begin to enumerate certain specific malfunctions he or she has observed. They can often identify certain behaviors and idiosyncrasies they consider ineffective or dysfunctional.
However, if I ask the same manager to enumerate a fairly complete set of skills that make up the package of "people skills," he or she will typically struggle with the challenge. After quickly listing the obvious and familiar skills such as listening and explaining things clearly, the inventory typically degenerates to a vague set of personality traits-aspects such as "considerate," "cooperative," and "articulate."
These traditional platitudinal definitions of interacting skills have limited our understanding of social intelligence as a broader concept and have led many people to settle for cliches instead of seeking a more robust operational model. We have typically settled for a few skills and techniques-"active listening," for example, or "I-messages," in which a person expresses his or her own feelings and reactions-and have not seriously sought a more comprehensive view.
The argument in favor of developing a more comprehensive model of human effectiveness, which goes beyond the older construct of "people skills," posits that such a model can serve a person as a mental platform for understanding social situations, or contexts in which interactions take place, and it can also enable a person to design a response to a unique situation without feeling dependent on some fixed inventory of things to say, ways to say them, or pre-programmed conversational tactics.
It seems reasonable to posit that the ability to behave skillfully in a wide range of social situations-talking to one's boss, taking part in a meeting, making a presentation to a group, sharing experiences with a spouse or significant other, interviewing for a job-rests on something more than simply knowing a set of specific skills or procedures. It implies a depth and breadth of life knowledge, a deep knowledge of one's culture-and possibly other cultures-the accumulated wisdom that comes from constantly observing and learning what works and what doesn't in human situations.
For example, simply "reading" the context of a situation-the multitude of cues that encode and signal the relationships, rules for behavior, and the attitudes and intentions of the participants-requires a deeply embedded understanding and know-how. To reduce the idea of human effectiveness to some simple package of "people skills" seems to discount the richness of understanding and resourcefulness that can make people more effective in their dealings with one another.
GOING BEYOND IQ
For many experts and students of human performance, the publication of Harvard professor Howard Gardner's 1983 book Frames of Mind marked a turning point in understanding and defining the sources of mental competence. For some, it represents a turning point of immense importance.
Gardner overturned one of the most fundamental assumptions of the psychological and educational establishments, namely that human mental competence arises from a single trait called "intelligence." Beginning with the work of Alfred Binet in France, who tried to measure the "mental age" of children, to the early attempts of the U.S. Army to identify measurable mental characteristics of soldiers that could predict their success in various tasks, and Cattell and others in California, who searched for measures that could predict the academic success of schoolchildren, the "IQ" concept has held sway in Western cultures for seventy-five years.
Many leading thinkers in the field of developmental psychology have advocated eliminating intelligence testing from American schools, but with little success. The eminent intelligence psychologist Arthur Jensen wrote, "Achievement itself is the school's main concern. I see no need to measure anything other than achievement itself."
The notion that a single three-digit number assigns a person to a certain level of potential for success in life became an article of faith, particularly for educators and administrators who believed in designing educational systems and experiences around presumed levels of competence. Argument and speculation continue as to whether the use of numerical IQ scores has done more harm than good in Western society. Aside from its presumed usefulness in classifying and assigning students, real benefits of the IQ system and ideology seem hard to find. Many anti-IQ advocates argue that its only real impact has consisted of making some people feel less worthy than others and leading some to consider themselves somehow superior to others.
The method of measuring IQ has come in for even more criticism than the concept of IQ itself. Critics charge-quite rightly, I think-that standardized pencil-and-paper IQ tests cannot possibly assess the full range of mental competencies available to a person. In particular, the designer of a standardized written test has to define each problem in terms of a closed set of possible answers. Any other means of assessment, such as written essays, commentary, or physical demonstration of a skill, would require a scoring system run by trained evaluators, which would make the testing process very costly and difficult to administer.
The lack of a method for inviting original responses to questions or problems completely rules out the measurement of divergent production, the basis for what we call creativity. Asking a question like "How many things can you do with a small coin?" invites an unbounded range of replies; no computer software could possibly evaluate them all. At a minimum, this restriction to convergent responses, that is, the "one right answer," eliminates a whole range of mental skills that play an important part in human success. Some critics of IQ testing contend that relying on written IQ measurements has caused educators to favor-consciously or unconsciously-students who perform well on preprogrammed tasks, at the expense of those who lean toward unstructured, creative forms of thought. They argue further that the design of the educational experience in public institutions reflects the "one right answer" approach and shows little respect for the "more than one right answer" concept that forms so much of the basis for creative thinking, the arts, literature, music, and other subjective aspects of human experience.
Enter Professor Howard Gardner. Beginning in about 1980, Gardner became interested in some fundamental questions arising from psychological testing: Why do some people with very high IQ scores fail miserably in their personal lives? Do tests of mental competence miss certain obvious aspects of human ability, such as artistic, musical, athletic, literary, and social competence? Gardner came to the inevitable conclusion: the concept of "intelligence" as a singular measure of competence has to go. He posited that human beings have a range of key competencies-intelligences-and they exist in various proportions in various persons.
With Gardner's model of multiple intelligences, theory finally caught up with common sense. Theoretical questions remain about how best to subdivide or categorize these various intelligences, and that discussion will probably continue for some time. Gardner himself has apparently not arrived at a fully satisfying taxonomic structure; as of this writing he continues to explore various categorical dimensions. But his "MI" concept has reached the tipping point of acceptance in certain sectors, particularly education and business, at least in the United States. Some of the more rigorous academic advocates of the single-number "g-factor" theory of IQ still vigorously oppose Gardner's concept, and the controversy will almost certain rage for decades to come. In particular, Gardner's research methods do not involve exactly the same experimental tools as those favored by the single-IQ fans, so the two lines of investigation do not necessarily yield comparable results.
We'll have our hands full in this book exploring just one of these multiple intelligences, the domain of social intelligence, so we have no cause to enter the theoretical fray surrounding the MI concept itself. We must content ourselves with placing SI clearly within the MI framework and then understanding its implications within that framework.
Placing SI within Gardner's MI framework requires a bit of conceptual acrobatics, inasmuch as Gardner himself-at least at the time of this writing-continues to evolve his categories and definitions. The bulk of his early work involved a set of some seven independent intelligences. He has also posited the existence of an eighth dimension, less clearly defined. Some other researchers have diced up the macrointelligences into other categories.
Consequently, for our exploration, we will need to settle on some working definition of these multiple intelligences, in order to place SI clearly into that perspective. While Gardner uses rather scientific sounding labels for his categories-verbal-logical, mathematical-symbolic, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical-we probably do little harm by recoding them into street language and simplifying them conceptually. With appropriate respect for Professor Gardner and his theory, I've found it helpful to rearrange these "multiple smarts" into six primary categories:
1. Abstract Intelligence: symbolic reasoning.
2. Social Intelligence: dealing with people (the topic of this book).
3. Practical Intelligence: getting things done. 4. Emotional Intelligence: self-awareness and self-management.
5. Aesthetic Intelligence: the sense of form, design, music, art, and literature.
6. Kinesthetic Intelligence: whole-body skills like sports, dance, music, or flying a jet fighter.
Excerpted from Social Intelligence by Karl Albrecht Excerpted by permission.
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