7 signs of a socially intelligent person (that can’t be faked)

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

It’s often thought that social intelligence comes to people naturally.

You’re either born with it or you don’t have it.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Social intelligence is a set of skills that can be honed and developed over time.

And the benefits of cultivating social intelligence are immense, having a particularly pronounced impact on your career and personal relationships.

So, what are the key signs of a socially intelligent person? I’ve outlined seven of them below.

1) Emotional intelligence

It’s so nice to spend time with emotionally intelligent people.

Just the other day I sat down for a coffee with a friend.

I’d been feeling a bit emotional about still being single with a few failed relationships behind me. Just that morning I’d even shed a few tears.

But I didn’t want my friend to know and thought I’d composed myself quite well.

It didn’t fool my friend. She knew immediately that something was up.

“Are you okay?” she asked me, looking at me directly with compassion in her eyes.

I was touched immediately by her empathy and told her what I’d been upset about that morning.

We had a great conversation and it really helped me to process my emotions.

She’s a socially intelligent person and she demonstrated this with her emotional intelligence.

2) Active listening

It wasn’t just her emotional intelligence that struck me that day.

It was also the way she listened to me.

She really took the time to listen to what I had to say. She gave me some space to not just describe the situation, but also to go a bit deeper and share why the situation troubled me.

She was actively listening to me.

How do you know someone is actively listening? They’re processing everything you’re saying without waiting for their turn to speak.

It’s quite a rare quality, but it’s something that socially intelligent people often do.

And it makes all the difference. It helps them to build very deep and meaningful relationships.

3) Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the place of someone else.

When you’re empathetic, you can feel someone’s pain.

You’re able to imagine yourself in that situation, having gone through what that other person has gone through to get to that point.

When my friend was listening to me describe my relationship troubles, she empathized with me.

I’ve been single for a long time and it’s quite a unique experience to go through. Most people are either in relationships or have recently been with someone.

My friend is one of these people. She’s been in a long-term relationship for five years.

But this didn’t stop her from putting herself in my shoes.

I could tell from speaking with her she really understood the challenges that come from being single for a long time.

Even though it wasn’t her direct experience, she was able to empathize with me.

This is something that socially intelligent people are able to do.

4) Flexibility

Socially intelligent people are also able to be flexible.

They don’t feel the need to control social situations.

They can go with the flow.

This makes people feel so much more comfortable.

For example, I have a work colleague who is able to adjust his communication style based on the person he’s with.

I’ve seen him having very loud conversations with some people about the football game they all watched over the weekend.

Other times I’ve seen him talking quite softly about a sensitive political situation.

He’s able to adjust his style based on who he’s with.

His flexibility is one of his key attributes and it contributes to his social intelligence. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him.

5) Self-awareness

I want to share a secret about self-awareness.

it’s something I noticed a long time ago.

Self-awareness isn’t about knowing what your qualities are.

It’s about having a clear understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses.

And accepting yourself – even when your weaknesses frustrate you.

Self-aware people are honest about their tendencies and can moderate their behavior accordingly.

This makes them socially intelligent.

For example, a socially intelligent person may be aware of their tendency to be quite impatient. They’ll then make a conscious effort to slow down, listen more and do their best to enjoy the moment.

They’ll accept themselves for who they are and use their self-knowledge to make it easier for other people to be around them.

6) Communication skills

Do you want to know one of the key signs of effective communication?

It’s about being able to express yourself in a way that others can relate to.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been around people who are book-smart.

They’re to get really detailed about complex ideas.

This is useful in some situations. But it doesn’t do you much good in a social situation if people get bored and can’t follow what you’re saying.

Socially intelligent people are able to explain their ideas in simple ways.

They break down complex ideas to their basic essence.

They moderate what they’re saying based on who they’re with.

7) Observation skills

This is a really interesting sign of a socially intelligent person.

Socially intelligent people observe the things that many people miss.

Let me give you an example from the coffee I had with my friend the other day.

This was the time when I spoke with my friend about my frustrations in still being single with many failed relationships behind me.

My friend was deeply empathetic and was actively listening to me. She was able to put herself in my position. I really felt heard and so warm in her presence.

But then she did something that really floored me.

She started to speak about the key thing I hadn’t mentioned in the conversation.

She said, “I can tell that you’re still holding onto a lot of pain from your failed relationships. You need to move on from this pain if you want to have a happy and healthy relationship.”

What she said cut me to my core.

It really opened me up to a powerful insight. Something that had the potential to have a real impact.

But here’s the thing.

My friend is a very socially intelligent person. She didn’t just go straight into the powerful insight. 

She may have been sitting with this insight for some time.

But she listened to me, empathized with my situation and put herself in my shoes.

And from this place, she was able to pick up on subtle cues and observe the things that weren’t being said.

How to improve your social intelligence

I love being around socially intelligent people.

They manage to put your mind at ease.

You feel accepted for who you are.

But the question is:

Can one improve their social intelligence?

The answer is yes.

Social intelligence is a set of skills that can be developed over time.

On the one hand, to improve your social intelligence, you can do the following:

  • Practice active listening when you’re with people
  • Ask yourself why people are going through the situations they’re in (how did they end up in this place?)
  • Learn to read body language and social cues
  • Practice self-awareness and self-reflection
  • Study socially intelligent people

These are all very good things to do and will improve your social intelligence skills over time.

But there’s something deeper you can do which cuts to the core of being socially intelligent.

You can learn to stop thinking so much about yourself and instead consistently focus on the perspectives and needs of others.

This takes a big shift in mindset. It requires new habits.

Thinking of yourself first comes more naturally. To be honest with you, I used to be the person that thought of myself first.

I even shared a video about the time I was an egotistical narcissist.

But through consistent practice and effort, I was able to change my habits and demonstrate more care for other people.

It hasn’t been easy, but if I can do it I’m sure you can too!

Finally, it’s important to remember that being socially intelligent is a journey, not a destination to arrive at.

The reality is that we’re all capable of socially intelligent behavior, just as we’re all capable of being selfish at times.

But by consciously putting our focus on other people, I think we can all learn to be a little bit more socially intelligent and develop more fulfilling and meaningful relationships.

Justin Brown

As co-founder of Ideapod, a digital publishing platform reaching millions, and creator of The Vessel, a new platform for self-knowledge, I bring a unique perspective to the world of culture, politics and psychology. With a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and M.A. (First Class Honours) from the Australian National University, I've dedicated my career to understanding and sharing new ideas and perspectives for a new generation.

9 ways strong women intimidate others without meaning to

6 signs you’re actually a more successful man than you realize