Social Intelligence Continuum

What is Social Intelligence? Where do you fit on the Continuum?

Daniel Goleman in his book, Social Intelligence, describes a large range of skills. At one end of the continuum are the people with outstanding Social Skills. These are people who are caring, who seem to sense what you are feeling and thinking. He describes a waitress at a local restaurant with outstanding social skills.

She has an uncanny knack of matching the mood and pace of A waitress listens to a customer.her customers, gliding into sync. She’s quiet and discreet with the morose man nursing that drink over there in the dark corner. But the she’s sociable and outgoing with a noisy batch of so-workers laughing it up on their lunch hour. And, for that young mom with two hyperactive toddlers, she wades right into the frenzy, entrancing the kids with some funny faces and jokes. Understandably this waitress gets by far the biggest tips of any.”   pp. 30-31

The waitress in the picture is a lot like Goleman’s description. One minute she is laughing with a group of students taking a break from their studies. But when this man come in and wants to share his problems with someone, she is always a sympathetic listener. And if you watch her carefully, you can see that her concern is sincere. This woman has a high level of social intelligence.

Most outgoing

Others with good social skills would include those who are most outgoing, who make friends easily, who have a number of very close friendships that will last a lifetime. Those who are natural leaders, those who can help people solve problems or find ways to help resolve conflict are also in this group.


There are, of course, large numbers of people in the average area, people who don’t make friends quite so easily, those who admire the leaders and support them but would not want to be leaders themselves.

Least outgoing

At the lower end of the spectrum, as you would expect, are those who are shy, perhaps lacking in self-confidence, and people who never learned how to make friends. Most of these people can learn with a little help. It will take patience and practice, but most shy people can learn to be more outgoing. If you have a serious problem, it might help to talk to a counselor.

People who often have social problems

People who have Asperger’s syndrome or Autism cannot be blamed for their difficulties. With training, they can also improve. Many high-functioning people with Asperger’s syndrome have done well in college, have learned to make friends, and gone on to success in the workplace.

Other people lose social skills due to brain damage, particularly in the frontal lobe. Such people may be just as intelligent as before the damage was done but undergo a change in personality, sometimes so severe that they lose friends, their marriages break up, and they are no longer able to keep a job.

Recent studies have added another category in this area. Dyssemia describes people with difficulty using and understanding nonverbal cues. They understand what you say but do not understand your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. The term was created by Marshall Duke and Stephen Nowicki in their book, Helping the Child who Doesn’t Fit In, published in 1992.

On the back cover of this book, Jane Body writes “We’ve all known children like this:

– they stand too close and touch us in annoying ways;
– they laugh too loud and at the wrong times;
– they make stupid or embarrassing remarks;
– they don’t seem to get the message when given a broad hint or even told outright to behave differently;
– they mistake friendly actions for hostile ones, or vice-versa;
– they move too slowly or too fast for everyone else;
– their facial expressions don’t jibe with what they or others are saying;
– their appearance is seriously out of step with current fashions or they don’t dress well for the occasion;
– they are known to stare at people, stalk people, or do something that annoys other people or makes them feel uncomfortable;
– they have problems dating or interacting with the opposite sex in a romantic way.
Many dyssemics are love shy.

While they began research with children, it is obvious that many adults have similar problems. It seems, however, that help of a supportive friend or family member or participation in a remediation program helps people better understand and adjust to social situations. It will be interesting to see in future years how this analysis is related to the lack of such skills in people with autism, ADHD, and similar problems.
(Much of this information came from the article on Dyssemia in Wikipedia.)

People with SERIOUS social problems

There are still others that have problems in the area of social skills. Daniel Goleman describes them this way.

First, there are the Narcissists, whose main desire is to have everyone like and admire them. Some, the more healthy narcissists, learn some social skills and go on to be famous athletes, businessmen, politicians, and other leaders. Others are totally self-centered and think only of what they like. They may develop “friendships” with others, but not because they like or have any interest in these people. They only want people to admire them and do things for them.

A step further in this direction, are the Machiavellians. They might also be described as manipulative. They feel no guilt and experience shame only when they are caught. These people often go on to crime, sometimes getting others to do their dirty work.

And finally, we find the Psychopaths (once called Sociopaths). While Psychopaths may learn to imitate the behavior of others, they really have no understanding of right and wrong. They feel no guilt or shame. They cannot imagine why their victims were so upset. They have no understanding of normal emotions.  Goleman describes one jailed rapist who “said of his victim’s terror as she was being raped, ‘I don’t really understand it. I’ve been frightened myself and it wasn’t unpleasant.'”   Social Intelligence, 129

Goleman explains that  “The basic emotions of anger, fear, and joy are all hardwired into the brain at birth or soon afterward, but social emotions require self-consciousness, a capacity that begins to emerge in the second year of life as a child’s orbito-frontal regions grows more mature.” These people without shame or guilt, people who have no awareness of the emotions of other people, may have had experiences of abuse or neglect during a crucial time in their lives. It seems more likely, however, to be due to  some combination of genetic and environmental causes.

As you study other people you meet on campus, it is very possible that you might meet any of these people. Some who seem to be great leaders may actually be narcissists, interested only in getting attention and admiration. You certainly want to avoid making friends with the manipulators, those who will try to control you. Even psychopaths can also be found on college campuses.

Look for friends who are genuinely interested in you, people you really like and enjoy being with. It is far preferable to have few friends or no friends at all rather than to befriend someone who pushes you to do things you know are wrong or who constantly put you down so they feel more important. Such people will only make you miserable.

Links: back to Social Skills       or to  Starting with yourself       Making New Friends

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