7 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Improve Social Intelligence

Success does not come easy.

You have to work hard.

You have to be smarter than your peers.

And you need to push yourself beyond your limits. In this race to stay ahead, however, we forget one very important principle of life—we need others to keep moving forward.

The ability to get along with others is called social intelligence. And improving it is one of the most important quests of life. If you are socially intelligent, you may be more successful than those who are smarter than you.

It’s a fact that the world has changed.

We no longer live in bushes where wild animals can instantly turn us into their dinners. And we have plenty of food that we don’t have to starve like in the old days. This has, to some extent, reduced our dependence on others. However, we are still social animals. We have not yet evolved to survive in solitude.

Without social interaction, lots of problems await, not just limiting your potential success. Stress is one of those problems. And this comes with a horde of other problems like poor health.

Thankfully, regardless of how you grew up or how terrible you are at making friends, anyone can improve their social intelligence. In this article, you will learn 7 scientifically-backed ways on how to do that. So without wasting anymore time, let’s get started.

1. Master Listening - it is more useful than speaking

Despite being very important, this is a skill most of us lack. Constant distractions in the modern world make it hard to listen to someone even for a minute.


Without effective listening, you can’t connect with others deeply. Eventually, your relationships will become the hallmarks of mistrust, conflict, and hate. In a survey by Tolero Solutions, 45% of the participants said lack of trust in the leadership was the biggest cause of reduced performance and ruined relationships.

But most of us, interestingly, don’t ever think of improving our listening skills, that’s because we believe we are already good at it. A study involving 8,000 people from various disciplines proved this. All the participants admitted they were good at listening and communicating. They even believed to be better than their peers.

Zeno of Citium

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.

But the research uncovered an unfortunate truth: only 25% of people listen effectively.

Effective listening is not the same as hearing. When you listen effectively, it means you understand what’s being said as well as that not being said.

You do this by reading body language, voice tone, language use, and more. And with this deep understanding, you can get the commitment of whoever is talking. In addition, your responses will be to the point. And this will create a connection for a stronger relationship.

Only 25% of people listen effectively.

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Here are some tips to help you become a better listener:

● Don’t cut the other person as he or she is talking.

Remove distractions: Take your eyes off your phone, the TV, or any other thing that may be a distraction and make eye contact with who is talking. If you are in a noisy place, it may help to move somewhere quieter.

Practice active listening: This is so important that it can amplify your social intelligence overnight. You can master it by paraphrasing, making inquiries, and acknowledging.

Provide feedback: You can do this by nodding your head, smiling, leaning towards the person talking, and saying words to show approval.

● Learn to read body language.

2. Respect Others’ Viewpoints and Perspectives

The world would have been a better place, perhaps, if we all had similar perspectives. But I dare say such a world would be boring. And it would be unprogressive.

You must acknowledge that we all have had different experiences to get where we are now. Some were raised in narcissistic societies. Some were raised in societies that promote togetherness. Others had parents who encouraged standing out from the crowd.

These differences define our lives. And these differences mean we will always be in opposition to others. These may be our bosses, spouses, co-workers, or random strangers on the streets.

It’s not that either you or the other person is wrong or right.

But what would be wrong is to assume you are right and impose your beliefs on others. You will create resentment which will injure your relationships. This is evident in autocratic leaders where there is usually low motivation and resentment in their subordinates. People want to feel that their ideas are respected.

Bryant H McGill

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.

But this does not imply that you must adopt any view that opposes yours. That will also be wrong of you.

Instead, keep an open mind and listen to what others have to say. Everyone has a right to be heard and hold a different opinion. If you are wrong, then change.

If you are right, then hold your ground. Respectfully explain to other the person that you do not agree with them and state your argument. Your opinion will be respected if you are dealing with a sensible person. Otherwise, avoid conflict by getting away from the situation.

This Iowa study showed that sometimes, people can’t change their beliefs even with evidence against them.

3. Learn to Be Empathetic

Empathy occurs naturally in all of us. However, it occurs on a continuum scale, meaning some are more empathetic than others. Some will jump at the sight of someone accidentally hammering a nail in his thumb while others will just wince.

Empathy is a great weapon for improving social intelligence as it builds strong and meaningful relationships. With it, you are better positioned to understand what the other person is feeling inside. And that helps you to learn to help him or her quickly.


Another study by UC Santa Barbara showed that empathy in couples made them more supportive and responsive. Couples who only showed understanding without empathy did not admit the same level of support or responsiveness.

So how does one learn to be empathetic?

The first step is to acknowledge your feelings. It’s only by understanding what you feel that you can be able to understand what others feel. When you are heartbroken, acknowledge that feeling. When happy, also acknowledge that.

John Steinbeck

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.

After that, you can move on to understanding others. Listen and watch them as they interact with you. Try to feel what they are going through.

If you are on the bus or train, look at people’s body languages and try to feel what they may be feeling inside.

It may even help to volunteer for a charitable organization. You will have a chance to deal with people in need.

Empathy is a great weapon for improving social intelligence as it builds strong and meaningful relationships.

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4. Stop Trying to Get Everyone’s Approval

Trying to get other people’s approval is a big problem. And it can keep you from improving your social intelligence. Unfortunately, this problem is natural. Getting people’s approval means feeling worthy, loved, smart, beautiful, etc.

If you don’t get accepted, you get rejected. And this results in stress. But most importantly, it kills your self-esteem and you will think you are unlovable, dumb, ugly, etc. In the end, you will start avoiding people. And you may even wish others harm.

In a study, researchers found that rejection induces the same response in the brain as physical pain. And in another study, researchers discovered that all but 2 of 15 of school shooters were rejected.

Emma Watson

All I can do is follow my instincts because I’ll never please everyone.

However, you have to understand that what appears like rejection is usually not rejection at all. As a new employee, imagine, you may find that others do not like you. And you may take this as rejection. But if you were to investigate, you would discover that the hate is because you are a threat.

Instead of worrying about this, understand that you can't please everyone. You hate some people and some people hate you. That’s just how life is.

Researchers found that rejection induces the same response in the brain as physical pain.

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Do what you think is best for your life and worry less about those who do not like you. Keep your self-esteem high by interacting with those who value you.

5. Understand the Differences in Norms and Rules of Culture

Culture and norms play a big role in how people behave in their personal as well as professional lives. As such, it’s a good idea to understand different cultures. You will know what influences someone’s personality or actions. And you will also avoid doing or saying things that may be offensive.

Understanding someone’s culture does not mean you must know things from A to Z. In the Book “The Cultural Intelligence Difference,” Dr. David Livermore argues that you need some qualities to understand culture and norms.


The first is drive. And you can think of this as the motivation to learn the culture you are interested in. This requires that you keep an open mind as you will encounter things that may be unwelcome in your culture.

The second is knowledge. It is how you read people’s verbal clues to understand what they mean even if they are speaking a different language than yourself.

Samantha Fox

It’s different cultures that make the world go ‘round at the end of the day.

The third is strategy. And this is how you plan to make use of your new-found knowledge to come around as socially intelligent.

6. Learn to Diffuse Awkward Situations

Some conflict is healthy in any type of relationship. However, too much of it can be toxic for the relationship and your health. A 2009 study of 276 couples presented at the American Psychosomatic Society's meeting found that too much conflict increased the risk of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, and other diseases.


If you know how to diffuse fire in heated conversations, you can bet to have more friends than enemies. Or you may help others remain on good terms by acting as a negotiator.

First, you must develop an ability to study the nature of disputes and quickly work out a solution. This is not something that comes easy, but it’s a skill you can develop.

Ronald Reagan                                    

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.​

Among the solutions you can use is providing unexpected responses. You can, for example, use humour as long as it is not offensive. You may also apologize or try to create a distraction by bringing in another story. This will calm everyone involved and you can then work out a solution later.

Watch this video on how to diffuse conflict at work.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

This is the most important point in this whole article. Do not expect to improve your social intelligence just by knowing how you can do it. You must put the things you are learning to use.

Do not expect to improve your social intelligence just by knowing how you can do it.

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Make sure you meet people of new cultures and become friends with them. Seek people of different professional backgrounds and also become friends with them.


Put yourself in situations that you know will help you to meet new people. This research proves that your new experiences, thought patterns, and behaviours can change your brain to boost confidence, which is good if you have social anxiety.

Mary Tyler Moore

Take chances. Make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.


Improving our social intelligence is one of the biggest things we need to work on in our lives. Not only does it help us succeed professionally, but it’s also important on a personal level. This article showed 7 ways you can use to improve your social intelligence.

Have you been trying to improve your social intelligence? How has your journey been so far?

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