Growing up with a severe speech impediment and social anxiety, I wasn’t only terrified of meeting new people, I also wasn’t very good at it.
At the age of 23, however, I realized I’d never make anything of myself if this didn’t change. To improve my ability to interact with others, I did the one thing that scared me the most: I took a sales job.
Every time I picked up the phone during the first few weeks, my face turned into a bright red tomato. I got hung up on countless times. But I kept at it. Today, twenty years later, I make my living helping people better navigate their relationships.
I learned a lot during that job. The most important lesson I learned, however, is the fastest way to get things right when dealing with people is by minimizing the things you do wrong.
After all, as human beings, we all like to be treated differently. When it comes to how we don’t like to be treated, however, we are oddly similar.
We will never get every interaction perfect. Every day, however, we have countless opportunities to try to improve them.
To raise your social intelligence, become more conscious of the behaviors that turn people off. Then make a commitment not to do them as often in the future.
Below are 5 typical mistakes that people with high social intelligence try not to make.
1. Arguing about meaningless stuff
Leadership expert, Conor Neill, said one of the best things we can do for our relationships is to implement buffers in our daily conversations.
When being tested, Conor pauses and then says the word “interesting” to himself. It serves as a reminder that as our emotions rise, our intelligence drops.
- Are the words I want to say, the same words the people around me want to hear?
- Is there something going on with this person I don’t know about?
- If the other person admits defeat, will I have actually won?
- Are they right?Observe how the people around you are handling their arguments. Take note of whether they snap or take a step back.
Through experience, socially intelligent people have learned their communication skills improve tremendously after they’ve taken a moment to breathe.
Some arguments are necessary. But most aren’t. Embracing the phrases “You’re probably right!” and “Do you mind if we talk about this when I’m thinking more clearly?” saves so much time and energy.
2. Neglecting to read the room
“Your partner didn’t fall in love with you because of some gift you gave them. They fell in love with you because when they had a terrible day, and you had a great day, you sat down and listened to them talk about their bad day without saying a word about your great day.”
In the words above, author Simon Sinek may very well have described the key to both successful romantic relationships and long-lasting friendships.
People with strong social intelligence not only listen, but they make a point to observe their environment before they speak.
This past spring, a guy came up to my friend and me and said, “You guys alright? It looks like someone died.” He felt terrible upon learning my friend’s father had lost his battle with cancer.
This is an extreme example. But it just goes to show you how important it is to get a gauge on your surroundings.
- What’s the vibe of the conversation you are walking into? Are people upbeat or downtrodden?
- What about their body language and facial gestures? Are they relaxed and smiling? Or are they slouched, serious, or even sad?At one time or another, we’ve all put our foot in our mouth. Here’s a trick to make sure it doesn’t happen as often: post a sticky note on the door of each room in your house. You don’t have to write anything on it. You’ll know it means to take a look around.
After all, it becomes much easier to avoid stepping in dog shit if you’re watching where you’re going.
3. Failing to be open-minded
From a dive bar in Baltimore to an upscale restaurant in San Fransisco, socially intelligent people are quick to adapt their behavior to better navigate whatever environment they’re in.
A massive part of this flexibility comes down to being open-minded. They genuinely like people and they get a kick out of how other people see the world.
As human beings, we all want to be heard and we all want to be seen.
Behaviors like judging people prematurely, interrupting them, and shutting them down when challenging our preconceived notions and beliefs make people feel like what they say and think doesn’t matter.
- Put your own agenda aside and focus on learning as much as you can about the person in front of you.
- Ask people for feedback to better understand their thought process and see if there is anything you are missing.
- Challenge yourself to identify the qualities you admire in others.This last point may not come easily, as our minds naturally scan for the negative. But if we ask the right questions, we can usually find something admirable in each person we meet.
4. Speaking poorly of others
Socially intelligent people understand dragging someone’s name through the mud not only makes them look bad. It also makes people question what they’re saying about them when they’re not around.
Not only that, but according to the phenomenon “spontaneous trait transference,” researchers discovered people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you say when describing other people.
Put simply, if you tell people Charlie is an idiot, going forward, people will think you’re an idiot.
The good news is, “spontaneous trait transference,” goes both ways. If you want people to speak kindly of you, speak highly of others.
This doesn’t mean socially intelligent people don’t get annoyed. Of course, they do. The difference is, instead of complaining to Barbara about the stupid thing Charlie did, they take it up directly with Charlie.
- Make a list of all the times you’ve messed up to remind yourself you aren’t perfect.
- Remind yourself that it sucks to be labeled by one thing we’ve done.You don’t have to always keep your door wide open. But socially intelligent people try to keep it a little ajar. They know that one of the best parts about getting older is seeing people come in and out of our lives.
5. Stealing other people’s moment
I asked one of my more charismatic clients about the best lesson he’s learned about improving his social skills. Knowing his sales background, I expected him to tell me about finding common ground with each person you meet.
Instead, however, he told me about the importance of not being a story topper
He went on to tell me about how after a shy friend uncharacteristically told a story at a family outing, he jumped up and told one of his own. He was proud of the fact he had people hanging on to his every word.
Later that night, however, his father scolded him for not allowing his friend to enjoy the moment. He then went on to remind him of the importance of knowing when to keep quiet.
- When someone comes to you with a problem, listen to them instead of telling them a challenge of your own.
- When someone accomplishes something or does something out of their comfort zone, don’t remind them that their best is your average.Think of ways to make people enjoy their moment in the sun more. But don’t force it. Socially intelligent people understand sometimes the best way to make other people shine is by doing nothing at all.
When looking over the behaviors above, some themes become apparent. Being an attentive listener is important. As is putting the focus on others instead of pressing our own agenda.
When studying social intelligence people, however, the theme that consistently stands out is simply developing the self-control to slow down.
Take a moment to breathe when you’re being tested.
Observe and think before you speak.
Give people room to show themselves.
Don’t speak poorly of others.
Allow other people to have their moment.
When things aren’t adding up in our relationships, sometimes the best thing we can do is to start subtracting.
This article originally appeared on Medium.
Michael Thompson is a career coach who works with business professionals to open more doors and receive greater satisfaction from their work. His career and communication advice can be found in places like Business Insider and Fast Company. He writes to meet people so feel free to say ‘Hi’ here.