Revisiting Social Intelligence as Post-COVID Society Reopens

dusting off social cobwebs is likely necessary after a year of covid-based isolation

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

One in three Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. With the danger of the coronavirus beginning to seem behind us, restrictions on social gatherings are slowly lifting. Exercising social intelligence can make get-togethers a little easier.

Two people socially distancing and talking on bench
After more than a year of restrictions on social gatherings, we are advised to start with small get-togethers as society starts to reopen. Photo By Manolines / Shutterstock

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that of the entire United States population of 332 million people, 150.4 million—or 45.3% of the population—have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, 110.9 million Americans—33.4% of the population—are fully vaccinated.

As the numbers of new daily cases and daily deaths related to COVID-19 decline, invites to small social gatherings are beginning to gain steam. After over a year of being indoors, how can we smoothly get back into the social swing of things? In his video series Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Jason Satterfield, Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said that social intelligence is a valuable asset.

Appropriate Reactions

In order to practice social intelligence as society continues to reopen, knowing what it is is vital. According to Dr. Satterfield, social intelligence is “the capacity to effectively negotiate complex social relationships and environments.” Surprisingly, it isn’t a new concept.

“Although social intelligence might seem like a new idea, Edward Thorndike coined the term in the 1920s, and Howard Gardner’s 1983 theory of multiple intelligences also included social intelligence as a dimension,” Dr. Satterfield said. “The original definition by Edward Thorndike in 1920 is ‘the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls, to act wisely in human relations.’

“According to Sean Fileno, social intelligence is a person’s competence to understand his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for socially successful conduct.”

As examples of behaviors that show social intelligence, Dr. Satterfield listed listening mindfully, figuring out what you feel toward others and what you might want or need from them, being able to make assertive requests, navigating conflict, helping others feel comfortable, and having charisma or charm.

In other words, social intelligence sometimes entails finding a proper balance between empathy and honest assertiveness in order to keep social relationships positive and fruitful.

Social Pitfalls

Everyone has had poor social interactions, and the post-COVID world will be no different. There are some things to avoid as we dust off our social cobwebs in 2021.

“One of the most common problems is a failure of empathy, where we use other people as objects instead of people,” Dr. Satterfield said. “It’s called instrumentalizing—we see them as necessary for a function but forget that they’re human beings.”

Additionally, we often fall prey to attempting to mind read. We assume what someone else is thinking when they speak, and we’re often incorrect, leading to miscommunications. “Mood contagion” is a phenomenon in which we subconsciously pick up on and even emulate the moods of individuals around us. Finally, it can be beneficial to keep implicit bias in mind.

“As we’re forming our identities, we decide to which groups we belong and to which groups we don’t belong,” Dr. Satterfield said. “For your in-group, you begin to distort membership in that group in a positive direction; for the out-group, you start to make negative assumptions about that group.

“We’re also influenced daily by media messages that help shape our opinions about people—particularly people in the out-group.”

Going into situations with open minds, empathy, and honesty about our goals in the relationship can help smooth out those first post-COVID get-togethers.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily