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The Difference Between Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Emotional intelligence and social intelligence go hand in hand. When you have one, you also possess a part of the other. This can become confusing when trying to decide what skills you have and those which you need to strengthen. I have compiled more information to help navigate these overlapping concepts.

What is the difference between emotional and social intelligence? Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) is the ability to identify and understand your own emotions and other people’s emotions. Social intelligence is the ability to work with others and to have them cooperate with you. 


So, how do these interlink? Social intelligence is a concept born out of emotional intelligence. Where emotional intelligence focuses on the emotions and feelings about the individuals, social intelligence takes it one step further and refers to how these are then used to function within a group or society.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI)

“many people with IQs of 160 work for people with IQs of 100, if the former have poor intrapersonal intelligence and the latter have a high one.” ― Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

When children are young they begin to learn about their emotions, how to identify them and use them appropriately. This is often done at a time when children are still in a very narcissistic stage of their lives. They can understand their emotions and feelings, but they do not yet have the comprehensive abilities to grasp how their emotions and feelings factor into their relationships and social networks.

If someone is emotionally intelligent, they are able to not only identify but also articulate their feelings to themselves and others. By identifying these emotions they are then able to apply them to others by demonstrating empathy.

People with high EQ/EI can separate past emotions from present. If a previous negative situation has happened in the past with an individual, the emotionally intelligent person is able to acknowledge that this occurred in the past and find a way to move forward without their new reactions being emotionally driven.

This moving forward involves an acknowledgment of past feelings, and acceptance of them, and a commitment to moving forward based upon what is best, not what will make them feel vindicated at the moment.

Here is where emotional intelligence starts falling into social intelligence. What we do to build relationships and strengthen bonds utilizes our emotional awareness and causes us to act in an appropriate manner to forge bonds with others. Our emotional maturity plays a factor in how capable we are able to act when an event is unfolding.

“We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us — -how we can take it, what we do with it —- and that is what really counts in the end.” —- Joseph Fort Newton

Emotional intelligence is split into four categories, as defined by Daniel Goleman. Two of these require social intelligence which will be discussed later on in this article.

Self-Awareness is the ability to act in an emotionally self-aware manner. This means that the individual has the ability to understand their own emotions in addition to the effects they can have on their ability to perform.

Self-Management refers to the ability to manage the emotions that arise during a period of turmoil, stress or excitement within our lives. When a person is able to control how they react to a situation, they ensure that they do not allow potential harmful or destructive actions and impulses occur. Instead, they control their responses, ensuring their personal effectiveness in order to meet or exceed their personal goals.

In addition, self-management involves the intrinsic desire to find new approaches, set challenging objectives and take calculated risks. This is aided by the ability to view circumstances, individuals and incidents in a positive manner, looking to find ways to overcome conflict and adversity through each challenge. This positivity opens the door to flexibility and the ability to grow and change, adapting to situations and ideas that arise. People with these skills can more easily adapt to change and manage the varying tasks they need to perform.

Social Intelligence (SQ/SI)

Social intelligence is comprised of two different areas, Social Consciousness and Relationship Management. Social intelligence gives us very tangible skills that one can work on in order to build better relationships with others. It is how we put our emotional intelligence to work within our relationships and dealings with others that defines how intelligent we are in this area.

Humans are designed in a way that they desire relationships. Each person wants to be accepted, cared for, nurtured and understood. Some people put a wall up and appear to not want to form relationships but this is out of a want to avoid pain and disappointment, not the lack of desire to connect.

“Social rejection—or fearing it—is one of the most common causes of anxiety. Feelings of inclusion depend not so much on having frequent social contacts or numerous relationships as on how accepted we feel, even in just a few key relationships.20 Small wonder that we have a hardwired system that is alert to the threat of abandonment, separation, or rejection: these were once actual threats to life itself, though they are only symbolically so today. Still, when we hope to be a You, being treated like an It, as though we do not matter, carries a particularly harsh sting.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Though social intelligence is a not new concept, medical research is now being done that shows how strong the link is between social intelligence and a person’s psychological health and physical well-being.

There are two categories that fall under Emotional Intelligence that make up an individual’s social intelligence capabilities.

Social Awareness is our ability to empathize with others. This ability allows us to take an interest in others’ feelings and concerns, with a genuine desire to understand what the other person is experiencing. This can be expanded to being able to read the state of a group and the relationships within the group, identifying how the group is made up and the dynamics occurring within the organization.

Relationship Management is one of the most complex aspects of social intelligence. This involves what impact and influence we have on others. Those strong in this are able to gain the trust and support of others around them. They forge strong bonds with others, developing beneficial learning experiences and growth opportunities by supporting one another through open communication and feedback.

An area that many people struggle with within relationship management is effective conflict management. When able to act with social and emotional intelligence, a person is able to assist both themselves and others through the time of conflict. This is accomplished by respectfully addressing the issue and recognizing the emotions and feelings around the conflict. From there the individual works towards finding a thoughtful and person-centered approach to resolving the problem.

When someone is able to build and manage strong relationships they have the opportunity to become a leader who can drive change and motivate those around them to excel. They create strong teams based on their vision and goals, creating opportunities for everyone to utilize their strengths, contribute meaningfully and provide a joint purpose that is rewarding for all members.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Social intelligence offers a great opportunity for growth and an increase in personal effectiveness and happiness. By learning the benefits of each area, and how to leverage our strengths, we set ourselves up to successfully navigate the variety of situations that may arise. As we become more aware and competent in these areas, our personal and professional relationships will thrive as we are able to deepen our connections with others.

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