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December 18, 2006

Book Review: Social Intelligence

From the author who brought us Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman's latest effort is Social Intelligence, giving readers a glimpse into the subconscious circuitry that drives relationship and social interactions. Goleman argues that our social interactions are not nearly as deliberate or rational as scientists once believed. As it relates to exchanges with other humans, he states that the brain's functions fall into two categories. The "low road" resides in the parts of the brain that we share with other mammals and vertebrates. It operates quickly and without conscious effort, helping us make judgements about people and social situations in an instant. The "high road" features more advanced functions, like rationalizing and combining present circumstances with memories and mores that guide our responses to social interactions.

Many of the concepts build upon his earlier work, Emotional Intelligence. And like Emotional Intelligence, this is a psychology book, not one on business leadership, although virtually all of its contents can be applied to work life. There is a short chapter towards the end titled "The Sweet Spot for Achievement" which delves into some of the business leadership implications of Goleman's research, but not in an in-depth way.

Goleman allocates much of his attention to the effects that the low and high roads collectively have on marriages, family relationships, penal institutions, the medical field, race relations, social work and so on. It also delves deeply into the health effects of positive and negative relationships. While Goleman asserts that although much of our social intelligence is rooted in what has usually been thought of as vitually unchangeable neural circuitry, he insists that it is possible to improve our capacity for social intelligence. However, very few pages are devoted to actually helping the reader increase their social intelligence, although the book is peppered with fleeting references to a number of exercises and studies that put the reader on the road that leads to improvement.

I recommend Social Intelligence, but not for anyone who wants the book to work for them tomorrow. Unless you're a practicing psychologist, you probably won't be able to apply this book directly to your work, but it will certainly help managers add a few pieces to their leadership puzzle.


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