I’ve been creating a lot of content over the last year and a half on improving your social intelligence. That’s because I’ve learned that this skill is one of the most powerful, overlooked skills for one’s pursuit of wealth, career success, and relationship success.
I’m happy to say that I’ve seen noticeable progress in myself from implementing what I’ve learned from lectures, books, scientific studies, real world observation and reflection, and personal feedback. This article touches on a specific topic, dealing with a particular flavor of nerds and geeks, certain people with low EQ or just people who can be tough to deal with or lack a certain level of awareness. This discussion of emotional intelligence for engineers is useful since, to a degree, it can be broken down like an instruction manual that you can use to explore and improve yourself.
There are many types of nerds, and I’m not generalizing and saying this archetype is all of them. Some nerds are socially smart. But there is a specific type that have an angular, narrow-focused mindset that prevent them from naturally being socially adept or cause issues with others. They may have some but maybe not all of the following behaviors.
- They’re shy, to the point that they may come across stand-offish or uninterested, which they may be unaware of.
- They’re fine with rubbing someone the wrong way, an advantage in certain confrontational situations, but a disadvantage in trying to get people to like you.
- They’re sometimes blunt in their communication, which can unintentionally offend people.
- They often lack social awareness, which can mean many things, such as not realizing they’re being rude and explaining their actions.
- This one is common: they can get hyper-focused on a topic they’re discussing or working on for a long time, while tuning out the world around them. This issue can cause more important goals or situational factors to be missed. Someone can get so wrapped up in a board game that he gets vicious, turns people off, and forgets the big picture that he’s here to have fun and bond with people. Or he can keep talking about a hobby he likes so much that he loses track of time or the people around him that show body language that they want to leave. This Silicon Valley scene describes it well (I love that show).
As a proud nerd, I’ve exhibited some of these behaviors to the past, to a minor degree. Those who are open to learn, willing, and have potential can get better at being aware when they operate like this and improve.
I’m proud to say that I’ve gone from a bit below average to a bit above average in EQ through lots of practice and reflection based on feedback from others and my experiences.
Before I dive in, a quick story for those of you who aren’t bought in on the power of social intelligence. Once, I worked as a busser for a restaurant. The task was simple enough: wait in the kitchen and deliver the food when it’s ready to the appropriate person using the etiquette they established.
That day, I worked with a middle-aged man who had worked there for years. Things were going great, and he was friendly, but then we started to hit dinner time, when the restaurant gets crowded. As the orders rolled in, I looked out for how I could help out. I noticed my coworker was busy, so I prepared a dish onto a tray so that it could go out faster when the other dishes were done. He saw what I had did, glared at me, and took the dish off the tray … only to put it back on himself later.
The message was clear. He was in charge. Even if it cost efficiency, he wanted to be the manager of the dishes and tray. He wanted to tell me when to deliver things. I was a bit outraged, surprised, and frustrated. He was costing productivity thanks to petty, childish behavior. He had likely spent years here and wanted to assume some level of seniority, even if it wasn’t official. But this type of stuff happened all the time here. You had to get smart about it. Another time, a chef would get angry at the messenger, me, for delivering a message from management. It doesn’t make sense logically since I had little to do with the message, but it makes sense emotionally.
Understanding the behavior of humans helps you better navigate them, win them to your side, form harmonious win-win situations, and achieve your goals better than before. If I could go back, I’d try to communicate effectively with my coworker to appeal to his ego and desires, while demonstrating that I didn’t mean any offense to try and get him to let me help him out. That way, we could’ve got more efficiency and let him stay in charge. Instead, I got shocked and scared, so I just let him do his thing. Not a huge deal, but there is room for improvement.
Now, how can we improve our emotional intelligence in those bulleted points mentioned, when dealing with these people and when exhibiting these behaviors ourselves?
A large part of what’s missing is social awareness. I’ve found that reminders can help. A soft timer on your phone every five or ten minutes to remind you want to pay attention to. You decide what that reminder is based on your past mistakes. It could be to have fun, remember to be nice, smile to show you’re warm, or to take a few seconds to think about how you come across before you say something.
Let’s say you’re playing board games with people and there to have fun. And you forget about the big goal to have fun and bond with others as you dive into the details of a specific move of a strategy game so much that you fight or offend others. You’re so concerned with debating some rule that you come off abrasive without meaning to or you even ruin a relationship.
To avoid wining the battle and losing the war next time, similar chime reminders on your phone may help keep the goal in mind. Over time, you’ll get better at this awareness through repetition until you don’t need reminders.
Another example would be if the nerds are at a social gathering and start talking about some specific concept in physics. They may get so ingrained in this topic that they fail to notice big picture goals or items, such as: this woman you’re talking to is getting bored, you’re offending this person, or you’re coming off arrogant only talking about what you care about and yourself.
Reflect and journal about past experiences you’ve had like these examples. Do the same when new moments come up.
The next step is intention and planning, find out how you can improve. What would you differently next time? What went wrong? I suggest walking into a social event with a clear high-level goal in your mind already.
Action is important. If you tend to get too focused on a game and your ultimate goal is to have a good time and improve your relationship with friends and family, keep reminding yourself of that throughout the night. Get a bracelet reminder or something physical if you have to. That way, each time you get dragged into details, you get reminded to stop.
Practice makes perfect. After your experience, go back to intention and planning. Reflect on what went right and wrong for your next social experience.
As far as dealing with people who have these behaviors, knowing they act in this way and that they’re unaware is important. You’ll then be able to manage your emotions so that you meet them effectively. You can somewhat quell your feelings of getting offended if they come off standoffish because you know they’re not trying to be rude. You can also voice how you feel in a polite, respectful way so that they become more aware of themselves. Or you can see them as they are if they’re unwilling to change. Sometimes, kind reminders so that they’re aware of focusing too much on a topic to the point they’re late or coming off rude can work wonders. I’ve learned from experience though that the key is to do it in a respectful way. Depending on the person, a reminder can occasionally come off impolite if phrased wrong and have the wrong effect.
Hopefully, these tips will help you as they have helped me. This framework is something you may find familiar, as Ray Dalio uses something like this for business and life.
Do you have any tips or stories you want to share with our community? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear them.
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