Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence Theory

Why are there some people we like immediately and who are extremely good at reaching agreements? Is it because of their magnetism or charisma? In reality, the key lies in their social intelligence, a competence that we can all improve.
Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence Theory
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 March, 2023

Some people seem to have a gift for being liked. They leave a positive impression wherever they go. On the other hand, some people are like cacti. They’re extremely prickly. In fact, even their mere presence is threatening. But, why, as human beings are we so diverse in the field of relationships? Why are we sometimes so capable and others so inept in this area?

As a matter of fact, the ability to create healthy and efficient relationships depends on educational, social, and even personality factors. It’s known as social intelligence. Undeniably, it’s an important competence that mediates in any field of life. After all, knowing how to interact with who you have in front of you will make it easier to have satisfactory relationships, whether they be in the realm of work, love, or friendship.

This subject has been of interest to psychology for a long time. The psychologist, Edward Thorndike, was the first person to coin the term, social intelligence, in 1920. Later, Howard Gardner mentioned it in his controversial theory of multiple intelligences. Then, in 2006, Daniel Goleman proposed a new and interesting perspective, that of social intelligence.

Let’s see what it consists of.

“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-

Family talking about the family business on the Theory of Social Intelligence
Our ability to successfully navigate social relationships requires mastering a number of dimensions such as awareness and social ease.

Social intelligence

There’s no consensus when it comes to defining social intelligence. However, we can understand it as the ability to navigate the complex ocean of human relationships with efficiency, well-being, and satisfaction. These include the family, emotional, and work realms. In fact, any scenario in which you have to interact with other people.

It should be noted that this concept shouldn’t be seen as an isolated variable of general intelligence itself. It’s simply one more variable. In effect, it’s the ability that facilitates your adaptation to any environment and that directly mediates your satisfaction and well-being. It’s also a concept that, due to its significance, has attracted great interest from the scientific community.

The Universities of Texas (USA) and Tromsø, (Norway) conducted a study in which they presented an interesting scale for measuring social intelligence. With this resource, we can evaluate an individual to understand how they are when it comes to understanding social situations. Moreover, if they possess adequate skills to handle such situations, and demonstrate adequate social awareness.

Figures such as the psychologist Martin Seligman highlight this dimension. It’s a cognitive strength, a psychological umbrella that strengthens us as a community and contributes to our own happiness.

“The ability to listen seems like a natural talent. But, as with the other ingredients that make up social intelligence, everyone can exercise and improve their ability to tune in simply by paying more attention.”

-Daniel Goleman-

Social intelligence theory

Daniel Goleman published the book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relations in 2006. In this work, he laid the foundations for understanding the concept in a more solid and practical way. Indeed, his theory on social intelligence constitutes an extremely useful tool for breaking down its components, in a way that favors training.

This book reminds us that we’re all programmed to connect with others from a neurobiological point of view. However, sometimes, for educational, upbringing, personality, or environmental factors, we don’t finish developing this area as much as we should. Therefore, it’s encouraging to know that we’re always able to take the step to boost it a little more.

Here are the components that make up social intelligence.

Social conscience

Social conscience outlines a powerful capacity when it comes to connecting with other people’s realities. Your brain is designed to empathize with people regardless of their culture, origin, circumstance, or particular context. Reading the social indicators around you allows you to better navigate life’s journey.

This variable is configured thanks to a series of elements that build it and make it possible:

  • Social cognition. The ability to understand the functioning of all social experiences.
  • Primary empathy. The ability to experience the emotions and feelings of others via non-verbal communication.
  • Empathic precision. Not only feeling what others experience but also understanding and deciphering their intentions.
  • Attunement. The ability to be receptive and fully in tune with each other.

Social ease

Do you find social situations easy to navigate? Are you good at communicating with your colleagues and even with strangers? Are you good at reaching agreements with others? Do you handle disagreements with your partner well?

Social ease represents the fluidity and effectiveness with which you handle your relationships with other people. It’s defined by the following characteristics:

  • Influence. Being able to have a positive impact.
  • Synchrony. Being skilled at interacting with whoever’s in front of you via non-verbal communication.
  • Concern. Caring about the needs, emotions, and thoughts of others.
  • Self-presentation. Knowing how to reach out to others, introduce and show yourself in a warm and familiar way.
Young people talking about the theory of social intelligence
Social intelligence must be established in childhood and adolescence.


In Daniel Goleman’s theory of social intelligence, the cornerstone is empathy. In fact, without this psychobiological glue, human connection isn’t possible, isn’t harmonious, and can lead to highly dysfunctional and selfish behaviors. Fortunately, many of us possess this valuable tool that helps us behave appropriately in conversations and shared situations.

At the end of the day, we’re a social group forced to live together on the same planet, facing the same situations and challenges. If we were more competent in the components we’ve detailed here, it’s quite possible that we’d solve all our problems more effectively. Therefore, you shouldn’t hesitate to improve this crucial area of your well-being a little more.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Goleman, Daniel (2011) Inteligencia social: la nueva ciencia de las relaciones humanas. Kairós
  • Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. Oxford University Press.
  • Silvera, D., Martinussen, M., & Dahl, T. I. (2001). The Tromsø Social Intelligence Scale, a self‐report measure of social intelligence. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology42(4), 313–319.
  • Thorndike, E. L. (1920). Intelligence and its uses. Harper’s Magazine140, 227–235.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.