8 signs you’re dealing with someone who has low social intelligence

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I always say that we humans are social creatures, but there are more than a few people out there who don’t seem to have gotten the memo.

We all have some understanding of our own actions and the actions of others. We all have some awareness of social beliefs, attitudes, and obligations. We generally know what to do and what not to do in social situations, don’t we?

Think again.

There really are some people out there who don’t or at least hardly do. These might be people who have high IQs or even decent levels of empathy. However, social intelligence is different.

And if a person doesn’t have much of it, they’re really going to struggle in life unless they can improve it over time.

Well, if you’re trying to understand someone who seems different, here are eight signs you’re dealing with someone who has low social intelligence.

1) They’ve got bad timing

One big clue that you’re dealing with someone with low levels of social intelligence is how they often do things at the wrong time.

They’re the kind of person who tells jokes at a funeral or shares a horribly sad story at your birthday party. 

Their timing is simply off.

I was at a wedding this year where someone did something like this, and stuck out like a sore thumb.

He was part of the wedding party and was supposed to give a reading during the ceremony. But for some reason, unbeknownst to anyone else, he started to give a sort of speech instead full of jokes and embarrassing stories of the bride and groom while they stood waiting to be officially married.

It was just the wrong time to be talking about the bride’s ex and the groom’s weight, but he didn’t seem to notice. It kind of ruined what was an otherwise really lovely ceremony.

2) They’re sometimes inappropriate

Inappropriate timing is one thing, but people with low social intelligence also say and do things that are really not appropriate to the situation.

You know that skill of being able to walk in and immediately read a room?

Yeah, they haven’t got it.

Instead, they do things like act overly serious at light, fun events or are too casual when they should be formal. Or they might say the wrong thing to the wrong person because they haven’t taken the time to figure out how to appropriately talk to them first.

A few weeks ago, I was at a birthday party, and lots of people were there, including an old work colleague, Mark.

He broke away from a woman he was talking to, came over to me, and started to tell me a really embarrassing story he’d heard. It was about a woman who caught her husband hiding another woman in the bathroom, and he thought it was hilarious.

But I stopped him because I already knew about it. Then I asked if he’d just told that woman the same story, and he laughed and said yes.

I suggested he take a look at how upset she was and explained that she was the person the story was about.

Big oops.

But on top of that, he then went over and apologized, loudly saying, “I didn’t know it was your husband who was cheating. I’m sorry.”

No, that didn’t make things worse.

While accidents happen, I think this was a clear sign that Mark’s social intelligence isn’t very high. 

3) They’re physically awkward

Where I grew up, it wasn’t customary for a boss to greet their inferiors with a kiss on the cheek, let alone three.

So when I met my boss at the airport once, and she surprised me with this gesture of greeting, I was really taken aback, and I also took a physical step or three back!

But I found that I eventually had to adapt myself not only to this kind of greeting but a whole host of other physical things I wasn’t at all used to.

I worked for a very diverse international organization and it was a real mixing pot for people from all over the world. In a matter of a few short weeks, I found myself bowing, waiting, hugging, kissing cheeks, and shaking hands in ways I’d never done before.

Although not all of these were comfortable for me, I learned how to choose an appropriate response to each situation.

If I had lacked social intelligence, I would have likely stuck to the rigid handshakes I’d grown up with and wouldn’t have been able to make all of these different people feel welcome and at ease.

4) They don’t mimic other people well

Neuroscientists have discovered that there are actually brain cells in our noggins that have the highly specific function of making us mimic what other people do.

They’re called mirror neurons, and they typically fire a lot when we’re in social situations like greeting each other, talking intimately, or sharing our woes.

They make u smile when we’re smiled at and laugh when others do. They might also have a lot to do with contagious yawning.

So do some people have fewer or less-efficient mirror neurons than others?

It would seem so.

Some people are simply not responsive to other people’s emotional cues in this way.

It’s also interesting to note that some people also don’t do as much to stimulate other’s mirror neurons. It’s like wondering why people rarely smile at you when you have a resting grouch face.

5) They write the wrong things

We often think about social intelligence in terms of in-person interactions.

However, it’s a fact that a huge part of our communications these days are in written forms like reports, emails, and, of course, texts.

Not everyone is great at getting their words down on paper or onto a screen. Still, there’s a difference between not being able to express yourself well in writing and expressing the wrong things.

There are now plenty of A.I. editors out there to help you with tone, style, and content in your writing, but they can’t help you if you’ve truly written the wrong sort of thing to the wrong person.

If a person sends a really informal message to a company they’re hoping to get a job with, the communique probably won’t be taken seriously.

Likewise, if they’re incredibly formal in the messages they write to their friends and family, these people will likely feel that they’re being strange or intentionally distancing themselves. 

6) They hold grudges

I’m talking about holding grudges forever without any chance of ever changing their mind.

On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be hurt or let down by someone and not really want to forgive them.

But this ignores a couple of important facts.

First, everyone makes mistakes, and knowing this, we might be a little more lenient with people. And second, people can change over time.

I had a friend in primary school who one day did something that I felt was a real stab in the back. We stopped being friends, and I moved away, remembering him as a total jerk. 

Years later, I met this guy at a conference who was incredibly nice and fun to talk to. When I asked for his contact details, I realized it was the childhood friend whom I’d always remembered in such a negative light, but he’d obviously grown up and matured.

People with low social intelligence might not ever let go of their grudges, and this is definitely to their own disadvantage.

7) They don’t work well on a team

A lot of people work better on their own, and I think I probably fall into that category.

But then there are people who are almost incapable of working on a team.

Some people can bring themselves to listen quietly to other people’s ideas. Others are not good at sharing tasks or reporting. Many find that they want to be in control of everything and can’t handle teamwork at all.

When we work in teams effectively, we share work and responsibilities. We also try to complement our weaknesses with other people’s strengths and vice versa.

When a person struggles to do this, it can be a sign you’re dealing with someone who has low social intelligence.

8) They’re overly focused on their own needs

A crying baby only knows what they need and cares for nothing else, but this is something we’re meant to grow out of.

But there are people out there who are so wrapped up in their own needs that they can’t focus on anything else. They end up being whiny complainers who distract others with their constant neediness, thus damaging most social interactions they have. 

Conclusion

These eight signs you’re dealing with someone who has low social intelligence might help when you’re struggling with a friend or colleague.

By understanding their challenges better, you’ll have a better chance of getting along with them by using your own social intellect.

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Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

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