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With no way back, there is only one way to move from where we are now. Forwards. Which might seem obvious, but have you had a moment or three recently when your mind drifted to thinking that you wish life would return to as it was before the pandemic?

If there’s one thing our brain loves, it’s certainty. It craves familiarity because it can then do what it does best, predict what’s coming next. It’s like knowing all the words to your favourite song. As soon as you hear the first riffs of the tune being played on the radio, you’re joining in, belting out the chorus in joyful anticipation of knowing what comes next.

But life’s not like that and the current climate of economic insecurity and health risk is causing havoc with our mind, threatening us with waves of anxiety, worry and sometimes panic.

Your future and the future of work is up for negotiation.

As lockdown and restrictions are eased here in Australia and a staged progress of return to work is implemented, I’ve heard many conversations asking the question “What’s next?”

What’s next in determining where we will work from. Will it be from home, from an office or a blend?

What’s next in factoring in how much time is spent travelling for work. Whether it’s a long daily commute, a weekly flight and whether there are alternatives.

What’s next in the choice of focus by employers. There’s been a groundswell of growing interest in ensuring the health and wellbeing of employees along with nurturing a more positive employee experience – whatever that is supposed to look like.

What does matter in determining the “what’s next” scenario will be your readiness to reinvent and upgrade what my friend Paul Kurchina calls “your personal operating system.”

I’ve known Paul for four years. We met virtually in Brisbane when he was searching in the airport bookstore for a book to read on his flight home to Calgary. He picked up Future Brain. There must have been something in the book – as he reached out via LinkedIn and we became fast friends. And late last year we had the opportunity to meet each other in person for the first time. Our friendship is a great example of how technology can facilitate a relationship.

An IT visionary and self-described rebel, Paul is a connector, someone who connects not just with people in his world but is super great at connecting others who he sees having synergy. He and his wife Erin form an impressive team with their wealth of expertise and extensive grounding in understanding people. They are also givers and they recently gifted a 5 episode webinar series that sought to address what’s needed for what’s next in terms of being ready to adapt fast and continually upskill, to be future-focused, fit for the challenge, resilient, emotionally and socially aware and capable of undertaking and maintaining new practices for lifelong learning and self-care.

The areas closest to my heart are the need for greater mental wellbeing, self-care to truly thrive and the creation of strong meaningful relationships. So, it was a great joy to present my thoughts on social intelligence as part of this series.

You can listen to the recording here.
My session starts at 48 minutes in, but I’d highly recommend you listen to Erin first.

I’ve always believed that people come first, whether it’s family, friends, work colleagues or strangers. As humans, we flourish in the company of others.

While the need for developing emotional intelligence is a given, our true power as humans comes from adding in our social intelligence – the understanding what might be going on in someone else’s head and why they might have a different world perspective.

Identifying social intelligence

You can spot the person with high SQ immediately. They are the person who lights up a room. They are friendly, articulate, conversational and interesting – not because they talk about themselves (they don’t) but because they make you feel as if you are the only and complete focus of THEIR attention.

One leader known for her high SQ being Jacinda Ardern, the PM of New Zealand. She comes across as open, honest and authentic. She listens intently, is highly empathic and understands the social rules and script we follow.

Social intelligence builds community

Why do we stay in our roles at work? Partly because we’re able to demonstrate our skills (and get paid for them) partly because our work provides us with an idea of self- identity – it’s what we do. Partly because it gives us meaning and partly because we highly value the positive relationships we have at work.

You are far more likely to put up with a job you’re not in love with, if you’re working with great people. But, you’re far more likely to leave the job of your dreams, if work relationships are toxic. Particularly if you don’t get along with your manager.

Having a sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe, or family binds us together leading us to feel happier and live healthier lives.

Your brain is a social organ and work is a social construct

Hardwired to connect

Your biology plays a key role. Oxytocin is the hormone released by the brain in response to when you are in the presence of someone you like (or love) and consider them like you. We seek relatedness – those threads of commonality, whether because our kids go to the same school, you share a passion for football or the arts, or have the same taste in music.

When oxytocin is at play, this, according to Paul Zac, neuroeconomist, acts as a signal indicating a person’s trustworthiness.

Connection also promotes courage in that you may be more willing to be self-disclosing and show vulnerability, revealing your human side.

Connection helps when you are feeling stressed, as the best way to combat this is to reach out and help someone else. It’s a win-win.

Connection fosters kindness, empathy and compassion

If someone you know falls over and hurts themselves, our response is usually to go and help pick them up and check they are not hurt. But we will do the same for a stranger if we see their pain and recognise their need for assistance. It’s why we volunteer to help search for a missing child in our neighbourhood or donate money to a charity when others have become the victim of a house fire or natural disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Showing kindness could be helping a neighbour struggling to carry their shopping, buying a friend a bunch of flowers and taking round dinner if they’ve been having a hard time at work or saying thank you in appreciation to the young person working at the supermarket checkout.

There are so many opportunities to develop your social intelligence when you have made the conscious choice to do so.

Emotional and social intelligence combined IS the magic

This is the time to bring together our emotional intelligence (understanding self) and our social intelligence (understanding others) to bring about positive change in how we connect and interact in our global community.

Emotional awareness allows you to deal with the present. Regulating your emotions influences how you think and solve problems. Your social intelligence focuses you more on the future, assisting in negotiating agreement or compromise to move forward.

As Graydon Carter said:

We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits; empathy, self-awareness and social intelligence”

What will your first step be in raising your social intelligence?

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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