Sept. 27, 2006 — -- Daniel Goleman, the author of the best-selling book "Emotional Intelligence," is back with a new book on social intelligence -- the ability to read other people's cues and then act on them.
In "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships," Goleman says that our brain is designed to make connections with other humans, and that our relationships have a real biological impact -- whether it's flirting with the opposite sex or succeeding at work.
Social intelligence means being smart in relationships by being empathetic, or being able to sense what others are feeling and their intentions.
Secondly, it means having the social skills to act on that information.
The people with the most social intelligence are those who are good listeners, Goleman says.
You can become a better listener by being motivated and mindful in social situations.
Instead of just saying what you think, stop and listen to the other person, and fine-tune your response to them.
Once you make the effort, and practice the skill, it comes naturally.
The book will be out on Oct. 3. You can read an excerpt below.
The Emotional Economy
One day, late for a meeting in midtown Manhattan, I was looking for a shortcut. So I walked into an indoor atrium on the ground floor of a skyscraper, planning to use an exit door I had spotted on the other side that would give me a faster route through the block.
But as soon as I reached the building's lobby, with its banks of elevators, a uniformed guard stormed over to me, waving his arms and yelling, "You can't walk through here!"
"Why not?" I asked, puzzled.
"Private property! It's private property!" he shouted, visibly agitated.
I seemed to have inadvertently intruded into an unmarked security zone. "It would help," I suggested in a shaky attempt to infuse a bit of reasoning, "if there were a sign on the door saying 'Do Not Enter.' "
My remark made him even angrier. "Get out! Get out!" he screamed.
Unsettled, I hastily beat my retreat, his anger reverberating in my own gut for the next several blocks.
When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us–explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt–they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences: emotions are contagious. We "catch" strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus–and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of a cold.
Every interaction has an emotional subtext. Along with whatever else we are doing, we can make each other feel a little better, or even a lot better, or a little worse–or a lot worse, as happened to me. Beyond what transpires in the moment, we can retain a mood that stays with us long after the direct encounter ends–an emotional afterglow (or afterglower, in my case).
These tacit transactions drive what amounts to an emotional economy, the net inner gains and losses we experience with a given person, or in a given conversation, or on any given day. By evening the net balance of feelings we have exchanged largely determines what kind of day–"good" or "bad"–we feel we've had.
We participate in this interpersonal economy whenever a social interaction results in a transfer of feeling–which is virtually always. Such interpersonal judo has countless variations, but they all come down to our ability to change another person's mood, and they ours. When I make you frown, I evoke in you a touch of worry; when you make me smile, I feel happy. In this clandestine exchange, emotions pass from person to person, from outside to inside–hopefully for the best.
A downside of emotional contagion comes when we take on a toxic state simply by being around the wrong person at the wrong time. I was an unwitting victim of that security guard's fury. Like secondhand smoke, the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else's toxic state.
In moments like mine with that guard, as we confront someone's anger, our brain automatically scans to see if it signals some further danger. The resulting hypervigilance is driven largely by the amygdala, an almond-shaped area in the midbrain that triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response to danger. Of the entire range of feeling, fear most powerfully arouses the amygdala.
When it is driven by alarm, the amygdala's extensive circuitry commandeers key points throughout the brain, shepherding our thoughts, attention, and perception toward whatever has made us afraid. We instinctively become more attentive to the faces of the people around us, searching for smiles or frowns that give us a better sense of how to interpret signs of danger or that might signal someone's intentions.
This increased amygdala-driven vigilance heightens our alertness to emotional cues in other people. That intensified focus in turn more powerfully evokes their feelings in us, lubricating contagion. And so our moments of apprehension increase our susceptibility to another person's emotions.
More generally, the amygdala acts as a radar for the brain, calling attention to whatever might be new, puzzling, or important to learn more about. The amygdala operates the brain's early warning system, scanning everything that happens, ever vigilant for emotionally salient events–especially for potential threats. While the amygdala's role as a sentinel and trigger for distress is old news to neuroscience, its social role, as part of the brain's system for emotional contagion, has been revealed only recently.