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2007/07/24

Social Intelligence

Linking: Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships   (中譯本)
Author: Daniel Goleman
Hardcover: 403 pages
Publisher: Bantam; 1 edition (September 26, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0553803522
Book Review:


We have sociable brains. Or, as W H Auden put it: "We must love one another or die." This is not the latest policy in David Cameron's "hug a boodle" campaign, but the essence of the argument that Daniel Goleman, influential populariser of the theory of emotional intelligence, puts forward in Social Intelligence.

When Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence, his focus was on the capacity of individuals to understand and manage their emotions as the key to personal effectiveness. Then he delineated crucial social elements of the emotional intelligence framework, labelling them social awareness and social facility (or relationship management): the interpersonal skills that mirrored the individually focused ones of self-awareness and self-management.

But, says Goleman, in 1995 there was little scientific data to elaborate on the social aspects. "Social neuroscience didn't exist until the turn of the century," he explains. Recent discoveries have filled in the gaps in his previous work, showing the connections between social contact, emotions, health and behaviour. The findings have been startling, he says.

"Even our most routine encounters act as regulators in the brain," Goleman asserts. "The more strongly connected we are with someone emotionally, the greater the mutual force… Our social interactions operate as modulators, something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function… The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences that ripple throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to our immune cells."

Scientific discovery, he points out, now shows that people can "catch" strong emotions almost as they do a cold or flu, because of the workings of spindle cells and "mirror neurons" in the brain that mimic the emotional activity of our interlocutors, to help us tune into them socially. This effect is so strong that Goleman concludes: "Our relationships mould not just our experience but our biology… This link is a double-edged sword; nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison."

The book argues that, as a result, we must cultivate and teach empathy and compassion as an antidote to alienation, illness, social breakdown and workplace stress. It is not a novel notion. So what, other than the scientific advances in brain chemistry, makes this more than old wine in new bottles? Why does it take neuroscience to demonstrate the importance of people skills in business and communities? Goleman's response is enlightening.

"People have intuitively known that those leaders with an outstanding human touch have been the most effective, but it has been hard to quantify," he tells PM. "Quantification has swept through business and medicine where things that have been easily measured have focused on, for example, how many minutes a doctor spends with a patient. By focusing on what is easily quantifiable, we have lost touch with something that matters deeply but is more elusive. Neuroscience can tell us what is going on during a moment of empathy or rapport and measure what it looks like and why it matters."

In other words, measurement is crucial and now people managers have a way of demonstrating which competencies the essential people skills are built from, how they work and what effect on performance the "human touch" really has.

While Goleman professes to be surprised by the business interest in his earlier book, he is unlikely to be so taken aback if this one spawns legions of training and development courses and HR theories. Relationship-building, after all, has long been recognised as a key skill in leaders. Goleman's book merely provides another tool in the armoury of soft-skill measurement for something we all innately recognise. What may be new is its application to workplace stress. While people largely agree what makes a bad boss, not all firms realise what a difference this can make to staff -- not only in terms of retention, but also to individual performance, right down to the impact of physiological changes created by toxic or positive emotions on staff health.

"Stress is social," believes Goleman, arguing that it is workplace relationships that make the difference. Neuroscience demonstrates the contrast between "eustress" -- the arousal state where people are engaged and working at optimum levels -- and "distress" -- anxiety and impaired performance leading to ill health or burnout. An effective leader can encourage the former, providing a secure base, nurturing creativity and inspiring people to peak performance.

On the other hand, "the worst managers will operate with a style that pushes people over into the zone of stress or high anxiety", he says. "When you have a toxic boss or put people into overwhelming situations, a different neural system kicks in and secretes stress hormones that debilitate the brain and stop it responding creatively."

From HR's point of view, the importance is that science can now show how such negative emotions can affect overall health and behaviour. And, unlike IQ, social intelligence is not a fixed quantity. Individuals can be trained to modify the way they emotionally and physiologically affect others.

Meanwhile, those who already possess this skill are the ones businesses need to identify and develop as leaders if they want to encourage a more positive, creative and effective workforce.


~Cited from Johnson, Rebecca. People Management, 1/25/2007, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p61.



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