Chapter IV See People as they are: Social Intelligence
The greatest obstacle to the pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. Social Intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last.
When interacting with people, view them from a detached position and do not get emotional. Focus completely on the people and cut off your own insecurities and desires from the equation. Have complete and radical acceptance of human nature just as how one accepts the thorns on a rose. To get upset or try to alter them is futile – it will only make them bitter and resentful.
“You must allow everyone the right to exist in accordance with the character he has, whatever it turns out to be: and all you should strive to do is to make use of this character in such a way as its kind of nature permits, rather than to hope for any alteration in it, or to condemn it offhand for what it is. This is the truest sense of the maxim – Live and let live… To become indignant at (people’s) conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer
Benjamin Franklin was hopelessly naïve and completely misread the intentions of people around him. After facing many problems, he took efforts to gain social intelligence and that became the turning point of his career. With tranquil and productive social relations, he could focus more of his time and attention to writing, to questions of science, ti his endless inventions – to mastery.
Your view of people is dominated by the Naïve Perspective. Following Franklin’s example, you can reach this awareness by reviewing your past, paying particular attention to any battles, mistakes, tensions, or disappointments on the social front. If you look at these events from the Naïve Perspective, you will focus only on what other people have done to you – the mistreatments you endured fr5om them, the slights or injuries you felt. Instead you must turn this around and begin with yourself – how you saw in others qualities they did not possess, or how you ignored signs of a dark side to their nature. In doing this, you will be able to see the discrepancy between your illusions about who they are and the reality, and the role you played in creating this discrepancy. If you look closely enough, you can often perceive in your relationships with bosses or superiors re-enactments of the childhood family dynamic – the idealizing or demonizing that has become habitual.
Adjust your attitude but do not become cynical. The best attitude is one of supreme acceptance. Observe the human comedy and be as tolerant as possible. Social intelligence contains two components – general knowledge of human nature and specific knowledge of human nature. The deep analysis of these two components need to be read in full and practised as they are too valuable to be summarised.
Strategies for acquiring Social Intelligence
1. Speak through your work
Understand that your work is the single greatest means at your disposal for expressing your social intelligence. By being efficient and detail oriented in what you do, you demonstrate that you are thinking of the group at large and advancing its cause. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large. By involving other people in your projects and gracefully accepting their feedback, you reveal your comfort with the group dynamic. Work that is solid also protects you from the political conniving and malevolence of others – it is hard to argue with the results you produce. If you are experiencing the pressures of political manoeuvring within the group, do not lose your head and become consumed with all of the pettiness. By remaining focused and speaking socially through your work, you will both continue to raise your skill level and stand out among all others who make a lot of noise but produce nothing.
2. Craft the appropriate persona
Understand that people will tend to judge you based on your outward appearance. If you are not careful and simply assume that it is best to be yourself, they will begin to ascribe to you all kinds of qualities that have little to do with who you are but correspond to what they want to see. All of this can confuse you, make you feel insecure, and consume your attention. Internalizing their judgements, you will find it hard to focus on your work. Your only protection is to turn this around by consciously moulding these appearances, creating the image that suits you, and controlling people’s judgments. At times you will find it appropriate to stand back and create some mystery around you, heightening your presence. At other times you will want to be more direct and impose a more specific appearance. In general, you never settle on one image or give people the power to completely figure you out. You are always one step ahead of the public.
Creating such a persona is not evil or demonic. We all wear masks in the social arena, playing different roles in different environments. You are simply becoming more conscious of the process. Play to the public. Give them something compelling and pleasurable to witness.
3. See yourself as others see you
We all have social flaws like that we talk too much or are too honest in our criticisms of people offense too easily when others do not respond positively to our ideas. If we repeat instances of such behaviour often enough, we tend to offend people without ever really knowing why.
We need to learn to see ourselves objectively. To do this, we should look at negative events in the past unemotionally. Dissect these occurrences and see what you did that either triggered or worsened the dynamic. In looking at several such incidents, we might begin to see a pattern that indicates a particular flaw in our character. We can also elicit opinions from those we trust about our behaviour, making certain to first reassure them that we want their criticisms.
4. Suffer fools gladly
Fools have a different scale of values. They place importance on short term matters – grabbing immediate money, getting attention from the public or media, and looking good. They are ruled by their ego and insecurities. They tend to enjoy drama and political intrigue for their own sake. When they criticize, they always emphasize matters that are irrelevant to the overall picture or argument. They are more interested in career or position than in the truth. You can distinguish them by how little they get done, or by how hard they make it for others to get results. They lack a certain common sense, getting worked up about things that are not really important while ignoring problems that will spell doom in the long term.
The natural tendency with fools is to lower yourself to their level. They annoy you, get under your skin, and draw you into a battle. In the process, you feel petty and confused. You simply waste valuable time and emotional energy.
In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture. Smile at their antics and tolerate their presence as you would a foolish child. Avoid the madness of trying to change them. It is all part of human comedy, and it is nothing to get upset about or lose sleep over. If they are causing you trouble, you must neutralize the harm they do by keeping a steady eye on your goals and what is important, and ignoring them if you can.
“It is a great folly to hope that other men will harmonize with us; I have never hoped this. I have always regarded each man as an independent individual, whom I endeavoured to understand with all his peculiarities, but from whom I desired no further sympathy. In this way have I been enabled to converse with every man, and thus alone is produced the knowledge of various characters and the dexterity necessary for the conduct of life."
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe