Social Skills in Emotional Intelligence

See also: Understanding Others

'Social skills' is a very broad term (our page Social Skills covers the general meaning), but it is also used quite specifically in the context of Emotional Intelligence.

In emotional intelligence the term 'social skills' refers to the skills needed to handle and influence other people’s emotions effectively.

This may sound like manipulation, but it can actually be as simple as understanding that smiling at people makes them smile back, and can therefore make them feel much more positive.

Social skills can therefore be considered as the final piece of the emotional intelligence ‘jigsaw’.

Emotional intelligence starts with understanding your own emotions (self-awareness), then being able to manage them (self-regulation) and use them to achieve your goals (self-motivation).

Once you are able to understand and manage yourself, then you start to understand the emotions and feelings of others (empathy) and finally to influence them (social skills).

The term ‘social skills’ covers a wide range of skills.

Social skills, in the Emotional Intelligence sense, include:

  • Persuasion and Influencing Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Conflict Management Skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Change Management Skills
  • Building Bonds (Rapport)
  • Collaboration and Cooperation | Team-Working Skills

Persuasion and Influencing Skills

Persuasion is the art of enthusing others, and winning them over to your ideas or proposed course of action.

People who are persuasive, or who have influence, read the emotional currents in a situation, and fine-tune what they are saying to appeal to those involved.

Case study: A Failure to Persuade

Anna came in from work to find her flatmate sitting on the sofa looking extremely glum.

Hello,” she said. “Whatever’s the matter?

I think I’ve just offended every single Division Head in the Department,” Melanie replied gloomily. “About 50 of them. It turns out it’s not enough to be right.

She had misread the emotional currents in a meeting. It put back her project by several months, and her personal credit by rather more, among those responsible for employing her in future. But at least she had learnt one essential fact: that you cannot rely entirely on logic to influence others.

For more about this, see our page on Persuasion and Influencing Skills.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are vital to good emotional intelligence. You need to be able to listen to others, and also convey your own thoughts and, perhaps more importantly, feelings.

Good communicators:

  • Listen well to those around them, making sure that they understand what is said, and seek full and open sharing of information. For more, see our pages on Listening Skills, Reflection and Clarifying.

  • Are prepared to hear about problems, and don’t just want to be told about good news.

  • Deal with difficult issues straight away, and don’t allow problems to fester.

  • Register and act upon emotional cues in communicating, making sure that their message is appropriate.

For more about good communication skills, including how to improve communication and reduce barriers, see our section on Communication Skills.

Conflict Management Skills

Conflicts and disagreements can arise at any time, often seeming to appear out of thin air.

The art of managing and resolving conflict is crucial both at home and at work. It starts by being aware of the importance of tact and diplomacy, and how these can be used to help to defuse difficult situations.

Good conflict managers are able to bring disagreements into the open, and resolve them. They use sharing of emotions to encourage debate and open discussion, reducing the hidden currents and problems, and helping each party to recognise each other’s feelings as well as logical position. They also try to obtain win-win solutions (see our pages on Transactional Analysis and Negotiation Skills for more about this).

See our pages on Conflict Resolution and Mediation Skills for more about managing conflict.

Leadership Skills

It may sound strange to include leadership skills as part of social skills. Surely emotional intelligence is part of leadership, not the other way round?

The answer is that leadership skills and emotional intelligence are inextricably linked. As we noted earlier, only those who are tuned into their own and others’ emotions can hope to influence. Perhaps the key aspect of good leadership is influence, and being able to take others along with you. Some people call that charisma, but it is more profound than that: it is good emotional intelligence.

Good leaders will:

  • Be able to articulate a vision, and enthuse others with it;
  • Not need to be in a formal leadership role to provide leadership;
  • Support and guide the performance of colleagues, while holding them accountable; and
  • Lead by example.
For more about this, see our section on Leadership Skills. You may also like to try our quiz on What Sort of a Leader Are You?

Change Management Skills

Effective change managers, often known as change catalysts, are those who make change happen without alienating everyone involved.

We can all understand that change is naturally quite stressful for all those involved. Good change catalysts, however, make it an exciting opportunity rather than a threat. Independently, they recognise the need for change and remove barriers. They challenge the status quo and champion change. They also lead from the front, modelling the desired change.

See our pages on Change Management for more.

Building Bonds (Rapport)

It is vital to be able to build and maintain relationships with other people.

Developing this skill will lead to better relationships, and a much better ability to work and get on in life. People who are good at this are great networkers, building and maintaining a strong network of contacts and connections.

They are extremely good at building rapport, but also work on established relationships to keep them healthy. One hallmark of people who are good at this skill is that they have many friends among their work colleagues. It is very much about valuing others: being interested in them and wanting to know more about them.

See our page on Building Rapport for more.

Collaboration and Cooperation | Team-Working

There are some people who work well with others: they build good and productive working and other relationships.

This is a key social skill in emotional intelligence. These people tend to see the relationship as at least as important as the task in hand: they value people as much or more as the activity.

They actively collaborate, sharing plans and ideas, and work together to build a better whole. In doing so, they promote a cooperative climate in which everyone is invited to contribute. They also actively seek out opportunities for collaborative working.

When good team-workers are in a team, the team performs better. They draw other members of the team in, and help them to collaborate. They build a team identity and therefore foster commitment. They may do this from a leadership role, or they may be a subordinate, but having people like this in a team is crucial to success.

For more about this, see our pages on Collaboration or Working Together, Effective Team-Working and Team and Group Roles.

A Cycle of Emotional Intelligence

Social skills are where good emotional intelligence is perhaps most obvious.

However, emotional intelligence does not start or end with social skills. Instead, it is a cycle, with its core lying with and in the individual. Only those who understand and regulate themselves and their emotions are able to work well and effectively with others.

Understanding this is crucial to developing your emotional intelligence.

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Learn more about emotional intelligence and how to effectively manage personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.