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A smart leader knows what to say … a wise leader knows whether or not to say it.

While there’s a lot more research and understanding about emotional and social intelligence and the kind of personality traits it takes to connect authentically with people and be a good leader, the fact of the matter is that some leaders are simply toxic.

And it’s a shame because the types of leaders – the ones who tend to be insecure and believe they need to be dominant and authoritarian, and work in isolation of the teams … they manage to have the power to create a lot of damage. A confrontational leadership style makes people feel devalued, angry, frustrated, guilty or otherwise inadequate.

But it’s also important to remember that as destructive as this can be, usually when people exhibit toxic behaviour, they’re operating on an unconscious level and usually from what we call a ‘blind spot. That is, they can’t see their own actions, and so it’s up to us to help them to understand it and address it.

And … if we don’t, then we are perpetuating the bad behaviour – the bullying and the lack of communication. And while some conversations are hard to have, this is one situation when keeping silent will be worse in the long run.

One of the biggest pitfalls in social intelligence is a lack of empathy

While we have talked often about the importance of emotional intelligence as a leadership attribute, we’re still exploring the idea of social intelligence – that is the ability to connect with, and influence others. On the face of it, people with this ability can be masters of insight and are highly self-aware, they will also have mastered how to manage their emotions, to have self-control and composure. This can sometimes mean that they come across as ‘aloof’ or having a lack of empathy.

We are wired to connect

Neuroscience tells us that our brain is designed to be ‘sociable’. We are unconsciously and ferociously drawn to others and want to engage with them in some way shape or form. The more strongly connected we are with an individual on an emotional level … the greater the mutual force. The most compelling exchanges occur with those people with who we invest the greatest amount of time day in and day out.

During these neural connections our brain engages in an emotional dance of feelings, acting like a personal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as we coordinate our emotions.

The result … a release of oxytocin that is the ‘love’ hormone and this feeling shows up in our physiology, which regulates biological systems from our heart to immune cells. Our relationships mold not just our experiences, but also our biology … in other words nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our body.

Pay attention or … you will miss it

Creating a sense of connection can begin as a private and personal quest by simply being aware of another person’s emotional state and activating your social intelligence. You see we are hard-wired to read facial expression, body language and voice cues … observing these elements of an individual allows you to make a private connection on your own terms. We all have social intelligence and it can be practiced and honed until we are truly brilliant at using it!

By tuning into another person’s current emotional experience and taking note of how you feel … acknowledging that you are making a connection with them, with a simple smile that coincidentally helps release more oxytocin which automatically shifts not only your mood but theirs too. When someone smiles at you, it’s hard not to smile back.

Watch body language and arrange your own in a similar way

Be aware of your non-verbal communication … your body language that is 55% of your communication before you even open up your mouth and utter a word. For example you may feel that someone is being rude or aggressive to you and wonder why? If you’re not using your social intelligence, it may be the way you are holding yourself and your ‘body language’ may be communicating something that you didn’t intend.

When your level of understanding or communication is not flowing as you hoped, check in to see what you body is communicating. Developing social intelligence isn’t about becoming manipulative … its about communicating effectively and giving others what you understand they need at any given moment in time. It also helps to build rapport and trust.

And the key to all of this is social awareness is really understanding your own triggers too … Think about a time you felt excited and energized by an interaction … and now think of a time when you felt drained and defeated after an interaction.

Hang out with people whose moods you want to catch and visa versa; and watch wonderful things happen!