THE BLOG
12/26/2014 09:34 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2015

Relationships Matter: The Importance of Social Intelligence

The only way to gain power in a world that is moving too fast is to learn to slow down. And the only way to spread one's influence wide to learn how to go deep. The world we want for ourselves and our children will not emerge from electronic speed but rather from a spiritual stillness that takes root in our souls. Then, and only then, will we create a world that reflects the heart instead of shattering it. -- Marianne Williamson

Whether we admit it or not, our technology use reflects our priorities.

When we engage in our spiritual practices, whether that occurs at a church, a temple, a mosque or a yoga studio, most of us silence our phones and put them out of sight.

With the red thumb no-texting campaign sponsored by Nissan, many of us are putting our cell phones in our glove box or our trunk as we drive. We know our life might depend on it, and even more compelling is the idea that we might hurt someone else if we text while we drive.

I'd like to suggest that we engage in a red thumb campaign of sorts for our business and personal relationships. How about collecting cell phones in addition to car keys at a New Year's celebration? What would it be like to be at a party or a business meeting with no distracting technology?

In Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success, Karl Albrecht goes to great lengths to describe the various skills and phenomena involved in social intelligence. It's complicated. It takes time to understand. Considered by many to be a fundamental baseline for a happy life, social intelligence requires at the very least our full presence in most social situations.

Albrecht uses the acronym of SPACE to describe the various components of social intelligence, which include situational awareness, presence, authenticity, clarity and empathy.

It's pretty easy to see how staring at a screen in the middle of a social interaction would negatively impact almost every one of those qualities. Situational awareness, which involves fine-tuning your perception of the ways in which space, people and circumstances influence behavior, is almost impossible to develop while we're taking a photo for a social media post. Presence is destroyed when we're distracted by the sound of an incoming text. Authenticity is discouraged as we edit our personal and business experiences for mass consumption. Clarity requires time to think, a rare occurrence in our world of constant attention to our handheld devices. Let's face it: if we have a minute to spare, most of us immediately look at our phones. Empathy, once the hallmark of any accomplished person, is becoming a lost art in the world of digital communication.

Most of us are informed about the preponderance of evidence that proves that texting while driving is as dangerous as drinking while driving. It's not a big leap at all to say that we are drunk with distractions in almost all social settings now.

This has dire consequences. If we are always entertained, we never learn to manage unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions. We don't learn how to get along. Of course children are quiet as they watch cartoons in the back seat of a car. They are mesmerized and unaware of the space around them or the length of the car ride. Creativity, empathy, compassion and conflict resolution, all possible lessons from a long ride together, are completely lost in the quest for easy distractions. Even the most thoughtful entertainment for children is no replacement for a wise parent or a compassionate sibling.

In a similar way, if we never feel the discomfort of a silent moment, or the anxiety of a new encounter, we never receive the lessons inherent in most personal and business interactions.

We are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction where we are increasingly disconnected from the people and events around us, and increasingly unable to engage in long-form thinking. People now feel anxious when their brains are unstimulated. -- Joe Kraus

In his book about social intelligence, Daniel Goleman describes the phenomenon of contagious emotions as he explains that our social interactions actually affect our brain chemistry and in turn, our immune systems and overall physical and mental health. In a very real way, our life depends on the health of our relationships. And the health of our relationships depends upon our presence and the development of our social intelligence.

As this holiday season comes to a close, spend some time in quiet reflection

Make a commitment to let go of the crutch of constant technology. It's not easy, but with practice, you'll get better at it.

Remember, your life depends in large part on the quality of your social experience.

So shut down your laptop and listen to your staff member. Leave your phone in the pocket of your coat when you hand it over to the host at your next social gathering. See what it's like to be all the way present with people. Stop chasing the reward of social media popularity and start building long-term authentic relationships.

Be present. Be clear. Be you.

Happy holidays.

"Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was that I believed in the future." -- Jonathan Safran Foer