Facilitating Social Intelligence

I finally read Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence this summer. It has been on my booklist for quite a while, and it did not disappoint. The book had a lot to offer regarding the science behind human interaction, but I most appreciated the explanation of exactly how the conscious brain can manage emotions, examples of how people can better be in sync with one another, and the hope for people becoming better social communicators.

Goleman often uses the terms “low road” when referring to more basic brain functions (like emotions) and “high road” for conscious and advanced brain deliberations. He goes into this in great detail, but ultimately conveys that the more the “high road” works, the less powerful the “low road.” This is exactly what I teach my students. A core part of what I do is teach emotional regulation. All other social cognitive strategies I can offer rely on a student’s ability (and willingness) to identify his emotions, know how to respond to his emotions, and actually use the strategies. While it’s nice to be reminded of the brain’s underpinnings myself, I know some of my students will be more willing to work on emotional regulation once they are convinced of the validity of the process.

Next I was fascinated with what people can do to become better attuned to one another. When we see other people interact, we process the interactions in our brains as if we were actually participating. It allows us to sense how other people are feeling and anticipate what will happen next. However, it requires close attention. The better you pay attention to another person, the more likely you are to understand how they are feeling, and thus the more likely you are to react with compassion and understanding. Many of the students I work with are excellent observers of details, and this gives us a great place to start. They can observe posture, facial expression, and word choice, and we can work together to infer how a potential friend is feeling. From there we can draw upon similar events in the student’s life to come to a sincere place of empathy. With understanding and sincere empathy, I can help them determine what would be the next appropriate “friend move.”

Finally, there is hope for people who have difficulty with social intelligence. Shaping the “high road” lasts into early adulthood, giving children, parents, teachers and professionals plenty of time to help wire and re-wire social circuits. Similarly, for those students who don’t have positive, nurturing relationships to model their interactions after, a surrogate adult can meet those needs. Thus, I am further motivated to do what I can to inform my community about the objective importance of social-emotional learning and help students gain the skills they need to be successful socially.

Goleman dives into many other facets of social intelligence, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the science of human interaction. You can find it here. If you are interested in learning more about social cognition or services for your child in the Denver metro area, please contact me at danielle@soundsandsymbols.com. You can also follow me on Twitter to see other resources I appreciate on this topic.

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