In a Harper’s Magazine article in the 1930s, Edward L. Thorndike maintained that there are three intelligences: abstract, mechanical, and social. He defined social intelligence as the ability to understand others and “act wisely in human relations.” He maintained that social intelligence is different from academic ability and a key element in what makes people succeed in life.

There are a range of current definitions about Social Intelligence and myriad theories about how whether or not you can teach social intelligence, what it entails specifically etc. Some people call Social IQ social skills or social quotient, or interpersonal relation among other things. Some theorists further explain Social IQ as one half of Emotional IQ.

From an etiquette perspective, The Civility Group describes Social IQ as “social knowledge”, which includes awareness, ability to interpret situations, knowledge of social expectations, and application/adaptation of those expectations in any situation. Social IQ serves to establish minimum standards of behaviour (including rules and etiquette) for interacting with others in a positive way. Social IQ is about identifying a quality in human beings that makes them capable of understanding what makes their lives worthwhile and makes their society better, during their lifetime and after. Courtesy and Social IQ overlap, because exercising either indicates a consideration for others, a deliberate choice to put the needs of others first, and an awareness of how one’s behaviour directly impacts others.


Social intelligence is in the tradition of wisdom, not the more current idea of “smartness.”

-Norman D. Livergood.


At Civility Experts Worldwide, we understand that Social Intelligence can be measured by several specific behaviours and the extent to which someone exhibits those behaviours, and how consistently. Some such behaviours include:

  • Offering handshakes
  • Making appropriate physical
  • Making eye contact, but appropriately, e.g., not staring
  • Talking to people instead of at people
  • Reading cues and body language appropriately
  • Listening to others
  • Adjusting behaviour to situation, e.g., stop talking or talk more quietly in public settings
  • Showing appreciation in public and when interacting with others
  • Following social rules
  • Maintaining appropriate physical space
  • Not interrupting, e.g., physically or verbally
  • Dress appropriately, e.g., in context, i.e., bathing suit at the pool, shirt in a restaurant