In my last post I described the two categories of social intelligence that have been defined by Daniel Goleman, pre-eminent thinker and writer about emotional intelligence, social intelligence,and leadership.
Those two categories were “social awareness” and “social facility.”
Today I’d like to start defining the components of those categories, starting with “empathy,” which is part of social awareness.
When we feel empathy for another person (or an animal, as the case may be), we know what another person is feeling — whether it’s from what they say or what they do. We may also feel what the other person is feeling, a process called “emotional contagion,” and we may be moved to help that person.
Just as self-awareness is a foundation to emotional intelligence, empathy is a foundation for social intelligence, because it allows you to read what others are feeling, which gives you a chance to respond skillfully. If you’re unable to read others’ emotions (as is true with people with personality disorders or autism), you’re more likely to bumble through situations, thereby offending, alienating, even enraging others.
A lot of empathy these days seems to be suppressed just by the sheer pace of modern living. One thing I always try to remind myself? I have plenty of time to listen — really listen — to other people. In fact, I feel more present, whole, and alive when I take the time to to listen to — and focus on — what another person is saying, as opposed to jumping in to express myself or trying to bring the conversation to a close because I’m in a hurry.
Of course people who talk too much, or only about themselves are a different matter altogether…and a topic for a later blog post.