Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, outlined the theory of multiple intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

According to the theory, there are eight modalities or multiple intelligences that can be observed in people. This theory was a shift from the widely-understood theory explaining the intelligence quotient (IQ) as the only way to determine someone’s intelligence. The multiple intelligence theory breaks down human intelligence to help us understand people with different affinities.

Of the eight multiple intelligences, interpersonal intelligence is often associated with social skills and how we interact with others.

  1. Meaning Of Interpersonal Intelligence

  2. Characteristics Of Interpersonal Intelligence

Meaning Of Interpersonal Intelligence

The informal definition of interpersonal intelligence is to be empathetic and having the ability to communicate with and understand others. Gardner believes that interpersonal intelligence is similar to emotional intelligence (EI).

People who display strong interpersonal intelligence show compassion, kindness and objectivity when dealing with others. These are critical leadership qualities that also help you work well in teams.

Empathic communication is about listening and speaking with empathy. Interpersonal intelligence works on similar principles by helping you be sensitive to someone’s mood, intentions and emotions.

There are many examples of interpersonal intelligence. But the most famous ones include Mahatma Gandhi and Anne Sullivan, one of Helen Keller’s teachers. Knowing well their affinity for helping others, it’s quite clear that this type of intelligence is directly related to being compassionate and empathetic.

Characteristics Of Interpersonal Intelligence

How well you’re able to interact with someone and listen to them reflects your interpersonal intelligence. Your social skills are a result of this type of intelligence. Having the emotional depth to gauge someone’s reaction and read between the lines creates powerful and successful leaders. Managers benefit from this intelligence as they have to lead their teams to success.

Here are some characteristics of interpersonal intelligence based on how it shapes someone’s social skills:

  1. Understanding Others

The ability to identify with others and imagining yourself in their shoes come from emotional intelligence. It’s an important trait if you’re in a leadership position, as it helps you understand your team members and work with them. It also allows you to assess unique strengths and weaknesses. If you’re working in a group, understanding others will go a long way in building interpersonal relationships.

  1. Stand Out In A Crowd

There aren’t many people who can understand what others are going through. Being able to think about others is rare—especially in our fast-paced world where competition drives us to achieve our goals. Interpersonal intelligence draws people in because they find comfort in your company.

  1. Listen Empathetically

If you’re in touch with others’ feelings and emotions, you’re more likely to listen empathetically. This means that you can feel what they’re feeling and you can even anticipate what they’re going to say. Making room for others when they’re speaking puts you in a compassionate light. Your coworkers will find it easier to connect with you and as a result work collaboratively without conflict.

  1. Excellent Social Skills

Social skills can be equated with interpersonal intelligence. Tact, respect and cooperation make you a reliable and trustworthy team player. You can communicate with ease and others will find it easy to approach you. In the workplace, especially, social skills are key for team-building and teamwork. If you have to depend on others to complete your work, someone who you get along with, is bound to help you achieve your goals efficiently.

  1. Good Communication

The most important aspect of interpersonal intelligence is effective communication. When you’re able to understand others, you find it easier to communicate with them. Whether it’s listening or speaking, reading someone and picking up on little cues like their facial expressions is extremely helpful in a professional setting.

Although Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been criticized for being too simplistic, it holds some truth in the context of appreciating individuality. Additionally, it draws attention to innate individual intelligence.

If you want to learn more about how you can refine your ability to speak with empathy, Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course will teach you all about it. Navigate difficult conversations and respond sensitively with the help of our insightful course concepts and frameworks. They’ve been designed to improve your communication skills so you can speak and listen with complete attention.


Explore topics such as What are Interpersonal Skills, the Features of Effective Communication, the Importance of Interpersonal CommunicationLinguistic Intelligence & How to Improve Communication Skills from Harappa Diaries and learn to communicate with impact & clarity.

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