Social Calibration: An Important Skill to Increase Your Social Intelligence

Learn how to socially calibrate with people to create smoother, better social interactions

When I was young, social skills were something that I could never get a grip on. It took me a lot of practice to actually understand what makes a good interaction. Of course, there’s a lot that goes into it, but I found that your ability to connect with people on an emotional level makes a world of difference to the interaction.

To build deeper connections with people, you need to acknowledge the person’s state of mind and tailor your approach to it. If you don’t, there’s going to be a misalignment between the two of you which is going to resultantly affect the connection. Here we’re going to look at what social calibration is, and how you can create better social connections with it.

The importance of recognizing emotional states

Social calibration

Social calibration refers to your ability to connect on the same wavelength with someone else. It’s a form of social intelligence that involves your ability to understand, empathize, and calibrate your actions to their state of mind.

A person’s mood constantly fluctuates, and you need to tailor your approach to it. If you continue doing something that makes someone uncomfortable without adjusting your behavior, you are not calibrating with them.

Think about it this way. If you walk up to someone who’s in a fit of rage and give them a friendly nudge, they might reciprocate with a punch in the face. Otherwise, if you attempt to have a meaningful conversation with someone who’s in a high-energy state, you’re probably going to bore them to death.

In these particular cases, your approach and the person’s mood are not compatible. There’s a discrepancy. If someone is in a different mood than you, it’s important to adjust your approach to share a more personal connection. When you are able to connect on a more personal level, this opens up all sorts of gateways.

To further improve your social skills, here are some good resources:

Before getting further into it, here are some questions to think about:

  • You see someone at a party standing by herself and looking anxious. How can you help them feel confident around you?
  • You make a joke around someone who takes offense. How can you calmly diffuse the situation?
  • Your friend looks at their phone when you’re talking about politics. How can you pick up their energy levels?
  • There was an argument, and there’s still a lot of tension. How can you clear the air?
  • A friend heard some disappointing news and is upset. How can you help her feel better?
  • Someone is highly invested in the conversation they’re having with you. How can you maintain that interest?
  • Someone is giving you short responses and doesn’t seem too interested in talking to you. What do you do?
  • Someone backed off when you gave them a friendly pat on the shoulder. How should you respond?

Why is it good to be socially calibrated?

SituationNot socially calibratedSocially calibrated
You meet someone at a gatheringThe person is giving you short responses, not reciprocating questions, and avoiding eye contact with you, but you keep talking to them anyway.You recognize that they aren’t interested in talking to you, say it was nice to meet them and move on.
You make a joke to someoneThe person gets insulted because you said something that was inappropriate to them, even though you didn’t intend to.You recognize their style of humor and decide not to make a joke about that particular subject.
You’re on a dateYou sit next to the person and she moves her body away from yours. You keep trying to hold her hand or position yourself close to her which makes her feel uncomfortable.You recognize that the person is still uncomfortable with physical touch, and give her space. You keep the conversation casual and friendly until she shows signs of comfort.
You notice that one of your friends in the group seems sadYou talk to him the same way you do as you speak to your other friends. You maintain a high-energy attitude and have fun.You lower your energy and ask your friend if he’s doing alright. If he opens up, you console him. If not, you give him some space.
Someone at work just went through a breakupYou act the same way as you always do by joking with the person, and generally being silly.You recognize that they may be in a vulnerable state. You make sure you’re kind and gentle with the person. You tell them that you’re here if they need to chat.
You notice that someone at a gathering is feeling anxiousYou just talk with the other people who are making an effort to chat with you.You make it easy for the person by introducing yourself, inviting them into the conversation, and asking them questions.
A family member gets triggered by something you sayYou tell them that they’re overreacting, and that they should lighten up, it’s not that serious.You don’t react and give the person some space, then move on.

How to become more socially calibrated

Social calibration at a bar

Make people feel understood

Know where people’s boundaries lie

Read the social cues

Your ability to socially calibrate relies on reading social cues. Social cues are nonverbal signals that convey a particular piece of information. They come in the form of body language, mannerisms, tone of voice, and expressions. Acting on social cues allows you to navigate social interactions better as they give you green and red lights for certain behaviors.

Pay attention to the person’s body language

Body language is generally a bright display of how the person is currently feeling. Respond to the person’s body language over what they say. A person’s body language is generally a more accurate display of what they’re actually feeling because it’s unconscious, and calibrated with their state of mind. You won’t see someone who is withdrawn and on high alert if they’re feeling confident.

If the person faces away from you when you start talking to them, they’re signaling that they don’t really want to be talking to you. If they appear confident while smiling and laughing, it’s probably a good sign to continue the conversation. Otherwise, if the person is a bit tense, maybe ease off a little bit and take a softer approach. What is their body language telling you?

Pay attention to people’s emotions

Your aim is to work with the person’s personality and mood, rather than forcing your own onto them. People will not respect you if you can’t show any flexibility, and you’re probably going to cause friction with people who are very different from you.

Get a grasp of their humor style

Be observant

Avoiding clashes in interests and beliefs

two people in an argument

Connect over mutual interests

Reading the set and setting

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Every place has a collective energy, and it’s just as important to calibrate with that energy, as it is to the energy of a single person. You can recognize this as the vibe of a place, and understand what is appropriate within that environment.

Bars and nightclubs are going to have a different energy to a library or office. If you act like you would at a festival when you’re in the office, you’re probably going to get fired. If you act like you’re at the office when you’re at a festival, you’re going to seem like a downer to other people.

Think about the common purpose that people go to any given place. Do people go to celebrate? Do they go to work or study? Do they go there to worship, or perhaps mourn? Maybe they go to just relax a little where they don’t want to be disturbed. Maybe they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to meet people. See how the setting changes things?

If you’re at an event such as a funeral, the energy is going to be quite low. It’s not the best place to be in a festive mood or to want to celebrate. A gallery is generally going to be more of a formal setting. Your etiquette is going to change. You might find yourself chatting about art and philosophy and having conversations of a different nature.

So match the collective energy of the environment. If you’re an outlier it’s going to be much harder for you to connect. It’s important to calibrate with the set and consider how other people are acting inside it.

What is socially acceptable?

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