I once spoke to a man under the shelter of a local train station.
His accent was thick and his conversation was hard to follow. In that moment as the gentleman was jabbering away, a train passed by the station.
Now, we’ve all likely stood at train stations before. When a locomotive passes on by, the noise is loud and the ability to hear well is impaired. The man who was speaking with me was none the wiser. He continued to speak.
I did what most of us do in those situations; I just nodded my head in agreement. I couldn’t hear anything. The train took painstakingly forever to make its way through the station, and by then the man had been speaking with me for well over a minute. The train passed by and I could finally make out what he was saying.
He then paused and said to me with a big smile, ‘So, what do you think?’ I stammered a response, trying to reply with some vague answer that wouldn’t allow the man to catch on that I was oblivious to what he had said. Why didn’t the man realise I couldn’t hear him? Why didn’t he change his behaviour, and stop talking?
I think of a time a boss gathered his employees together in one room.
Twenty people were gathered in the tech room, with an understanding that an important announcement was going to be made. The boss then proceeded to tell everyone there were going to be cutbacks, loss of jobs and increased expectations due to the financial situation of the organisation.
The room feel silent and people became upset and some were frustrated and others anxious. Then the boss left the room and wondered why everyone was so upset. Why hadn’t people taken the news well? he pondered.
How can you have high social intelligence?
One of the keys to high social intelligence is situational awareness.
Karl Albrecht writes extensively on social intelligence and says there are 5 key areas related to having high social intelligence, and that is situational awareness, a person’s presence amongst others, their authenticity, the ability to create clarity in any situation and lastly, empathy.
Situational awareness is about understanding the situation you are in and changing your behaviour accordingly.
How often have you stood in a supermarket and tried to walk past people talking in the isles? Then you found yourself frustrated that they didn’t realise you were there, and consequently didn’t move to let you through. Now, be honest, how often have you not realised you were blocking someone else’s way because you were busy having a gasbag?
This anonymous response from my blog on emotional intelligence sums up the problem:
‘I have seen a leader speak to a woman who had tears streaming down her face and completely ignore the pain shown. I have seen leaders who do not pick up on the pain, the doubt, the hesitancy shown in another's eyes. I have seen people who do not pick up on the pain that is shown on someone's face after hurtful comments (and not even recognize that something is wrong). Verbal and nonverbal clues of the emotional state of another are not noticed... nor is a caring response given.’
I don’t know how to teach someone to have situational awareness. Maybe it starts with dealing with your own emotions first. High emotional intelligence (the ability to identify and manage your own emotions) is surely a prerequisite for high social intelligence. One does not generally perceive how they affect the people around them, if they’re still caught up in their own emotional baggage.
People of faith are taught to understand that their behaviour affects the people around them.
Love your neighbour was not an option, but a commandment. Jesus said to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That’s why followers of Jesus choose not to steal another person’s property. That’s why they seek to build others up and not tear them down. That’s why they seek to lift the poor wretched soul out of the gutter and not walk on by.
We may even suggest that a deeper relationship with the Lord improves your own situational awareness, or more directly, your faith causes you to have greater empathy for others and thus causes you to consider how your actions contribute to the environment you are in.
A comedian named Pete Lee was recently on the Jimmy Fallon show doing some stand-up comedy. I watched a short clip on him speaking about how he deals with hecklers in an audience. I’ve witnessed how some comedians do it: they holler and swear at the individual until they feel like a piece of unwanted garbage.
Pete Lee took a different approach one day as a woman yelled out abuse to him on stage. Quickly did he realise that the woman was not making outbursts because of the quality of his comedic material.
He poked and prodded the woman until he realised that she was going through a difficult time at home. Her family situation was causing her grief and she had come to a comedy show to let off some steam. The lady unknowingly found some healing that night, as she let go some of her angst and disappointment.
I don’t know many comedians who have such great situational awareness: that they can be on stage during a routine and be considering what other people are feeling and finding a course of action that brings a resolution. I would love to have social intelligence like that.
And I would love to be funny on stage.
The last time I cracked a joke, my wife told me no one around me was laughing. If I had high social intelligence I may have even realised!
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at http://www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-brookshaw.html