5 things socially intelligent people notice about others

You’ve heard a lot about social intelligence, and what socially intelligent people do and don’t do.

But the habits they build are drawn from knowledge, and to gain it you have to be good at observing certain things about others. 

What is it that socially intelligent people notice about people around them?

Here are the top 5 things. 

1) Their body language

One of the first things that socially intelligent people notice about others is their body language.

This is very important because words are only a small portion of communication. 

A person could be saying they feel great, but if their shoulders are slumped and their hands are wrapped around themselves, their body is saying something different.

And usually it’s the body that’s right. We are much better at choosing our words than at hiding the unconscious cues we give away through tone of voice, gestures, and posture. 

Socially intelligent people are good at picking up on these things.

This can help them navigate various situations. If a person is showing signs of feeling uncomfortable, they can change the topic or back off — or ask what’s wrong. 

It’s also very valuable to notice when a person’s body language doesn’t align with what they’re saying.

If it’s a close friend, you could encourage them to open up and share how they’re really feeling.

But maybe on the other hand the best course of action is to respect that the person doesn’t want to talk about it, and leave it be. 

That’s a big part of social intelligence — being able to gauge different situations individually to choose the best course of action.

Either way, this helps you gain very valuable insights. 

2) How they talk about others

We’ve all been in a situation where someone was bad-mouthing another person.

Maybe they were justified — maybe not. Hopefully, you gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and let yourself form your own opinion.

But regardless, this kind of conversation is very useful to make note of for socially intelligent people.

Specifically, it’s good to notice how people express themselves when talking about others.

Do they look for the good in people? Do they find reasons to criticize and blame? 

This is a powerful indication of how they approach and value their relationships. And therefore, how they may approach their relationship with you.

You’re getting a real-life demonstration of how they might be talking about you later, behind your back: whether or not they’ll give you grace when you make mistakes, and if they can consider different points of view. 

This will be crucial in helping you determine if you two vibe well together, and decide if you want to get closer to this person or not. 

3) Whether or not they are open to feedback

Everyone gets feedback, whether we realize it or not — constantly, in fact. 

Some feedback is more explicit (“You shouldn’t be so negative.”). And some is more subtle — a frown on someone’s face, or a hesitation that’s half a second too long.

Feedback can be very useful as a tool for personal growth and also improving your relationships, but only if the person is open to it.

And that’s why the most socially intelligent people notice if the people around them embrace feedback.

This makes navigating relationships so much easier. 

You might notice that a person gets defensive at any sign of feedback. Maybe this relationship is not all that important to you, but they’re in your community and you’d rather conserve a peaceful relationship with them. 

So you decide to withhold any feedback and let things slide. Your relationship with them stays non-conflictive, and you have an easier time participating in the community.  

That’s just one example — if a relationship has a lot of significance, then it’s very important for the person to be open to feedback in order for it to work in a healthy way.

If they aren’t, well, that might be a sign that the relationship isn’t working so well.

But socially intelligent people also notice how people are most receptive to getting feedback. 

They might be very sensitive, and need you to say things very positively or delicately. For others, that might go right over their heads, and they prefer to be told things straight to their face.

All these things help you figure out how to build your bond with someone while respecting their boundaries.

4) What’s important to them

If you want to click with someone, whether it’s a coworker, a friend, or a client, you need to understand their values

People may tell you directly what’s important to them — but truly socially intelligent people know to look further than that.

We all know someone who claims to value health, but chooses fast food every time at lunch. 

Or someone who says family is most important, but they cancel plans to stay late at the office. 

This isn’t to say these people are lying, or have bad intentions. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re not living aligned with what we want to value.

So what gives away someone’s real values?

It’s a mix of different things, but a good start is looking at where they spend their time, and where they spend their money.

Their word choices can also give away their interests, or thought processes.

And how does this help you? Once you understand what’s important to a person, you’ll know how to navigate the relationship in order to keep them comfortable and happy.

5) Their successes

Picture this: you’ve just hit a big milestone in a personal goal of yours, and you get to your office all excited.

With a huge smile on your face, you share your accomplishment with a colleague.

They give a half-hearted smile with a quick “good job!” then turn around to stare back into their screen. 

Maybe they were just distracted, or worried about a personal problem. But what’s for sure is that you definitely don’t feel very connected with them at the moment. 

Little wins are still wins, and socially intelligent people are sure to notice and appreciate them about others. 

This is what helps you be more likable and build rapport with others. Communication expert Leil Lowndes also stresses this in her book, How to Talk to Anyone

Besides, enough bad things happen on the planet every day — we should take any chance we get to focus on the positive!

Final thoughts

Social intelligence is a complex skill, and there are many things that can help you build it.

These 5 things to notice about others is a great place to start, as it will give you insights into how the people around you operate.

When you’re ready for more, be sure to look around Ideapod for more tips on being your best self — there’s a lot more where this came from!

Picture of Silvia Adamyova

Silvia Adamyova

Born in Slovakia, raised in Canada, with a translation degree from University of Ottawa and an editing certificate from Simon Fraser University. Now based back in Slovakia (if you’re wondering why - have you seen Canadian winters?). Full-time freelance English teacher, translator, editor, and copywriter. Part-time avid reader, self-development junkie, and cake addict. I hope my writing inspires you in some way — if it does, find me on LinkedIn or Instagram and let me know!

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