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Social Intelligence: A prerequisite of the 21st Century organization Published: Sunday, July 26, 2009 8:00 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO

A fundamental dilemma for contemporary business players is that, while economic constraints continue, the internal and external environment is demanding a socially intelligent type of organization. That is an organization full of self-aware people. In such an organization, open expression of thoughts, feelings and intentions allows people to truly see each other as they are, which in turn, fosters trusting and intimate human connections.  There is a strong sense of the present moment in each interaction because each person is free of the bias of past disappointments and clear about the realities of present relationships and situations.  Each person's knowledge of self and capacity to make good choices about relationships fosters a climate in which even the most risky or difficult topics can be discussed.

The field of social intelligence has provided abundant research on how people undertake authentic collaborative relationships. Insights and conclusions from their research include the following:  Humans appear to be uniquely endowed with the capacity for large-scale cooperation through stable relationships and reciprocity.  "This capacity comes from having the brain circuitry to adopt the perspective of another, which can further promote empathy and altruism.  We also have a sophisticated limbic system involved in social bonding and loving one another.  As a result humans have a natural capacity to be compassionate, cooperative, loving, and altruistic." 

In that kind of organization people remain centered and okay within themselves and with others. In essence, the culture is characterized by taking responsibility for one's choices, feeling trust and safety for open discussion of ideas and being inspired to work closely with others to accomplish shared goals.    People trust that others are truly interested in and compassionate about their intentions, problems, and highest hopes.  The norm is that people take the time to accurately understand and compassionately respond to one another.  They attune to one another through being present and through listening intently.

Sensitivity to one another creates authentic and close relationships among people.  Caring actions in support of others flourish.  Networks of trusted colleagues to draw on for work resources abound.  Synergy within and among work groups is a frequent and expected occurrence.  The results are effective decisions, successful outcomes and products and services created from tapping all the best ideas and talents from every single person.

The socially intelligent organization should be led by people who have the perspective to see the needs and interests of the whole organization.  They might be in formally appointed leadership positions, or they might pop up from just about anywhere because they are needed and have special talents. People trust the influence of these people because of their capacity to understand the dynamics of groups and other social situations. Even in difficult or threatening situations they maintain a caring and solid presence.  People with this genuine capacity to influence others are honored for their vision and respected for transforming people and organizations through trusting relationships. The results in the organization are hope and high expectations, resiliency for problem solving, and cultivation of extraordinary individual and organizational success.

Research and literature on social intelligence (Albrecht, Barchard, etc.) consistently refer to three basic competencies: Self Awareness, Empathy, and Social Influence (often referred to as regulation of self and others). Self-Awareness is defined as knowing, honoring and managing one's self as the foundation for making considerate choices about behaviors affecting relationships.  Empathy entails the capacity to accurately understand others and to engage in compassionate, nonjudgmental interactions.

Because social intelligence develops over a lifetime of learning, understanding and developing it requires more than cognitive learning such as reading and hearing information (although these are helpful as well).  Social learning theory and appreciative inquiry are two approaches that have been found to be helpful in the development of social intelligence. Appreciative inquiry taps the power of positive thinking by engaging our intentions and focusing our attention on ideals and goals.  Both methods tap the awesome power of the brain to forge neural pathways for new ideas and strengthen desired social interaction behaviors.  

Engaging our social intelligence requires that we clearly see and understand others in the present moment.  Socially intelligent behavior can be difficult if our past experience is distorting the reality of the situation and our accurate reading of the other person's feelings and intentions.  A key aspect of social intelligence development is learning to be as "clear" and present as possible. Once the awareness is there, seeing present situations more clearly and making more appropriate choices can actually begin to change the neural pathways of the brain.  The more one focuses on new attitudes and behaviors the stronger they become.  An essential insight from social learning theory is that human beings can identify and reframe past relationship experiences in order to bring clarity and make healthy choices about relationships in the present.

The future of people in organizations is about change. One of our brain's responses to change is a warning signal to be wary!  A way to overcome the fear triggered by the brain's warning and gain momentum for change is through the simple, yet powerful act of refocusing our attention. Training the brain to focus on desired change (rather than on problems or deficits) is a primary way to increase the social intelligence competencies of self-awareness, empathy, and influence.


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