So what is practical intelligence? Simply put, it’s the ability that individuals use to find the best fit between themselves and the demands of the environment. What does that mean? Well, it means that individuals that have cultivated practical intelligence are more adept at taking an inventory of a particular situation and have an increased ability to recognize the best way to utilize their social communication and negotiation skills to manipulate the situation to have the best outcome. That was a mouthful wasn’t it?
American psychologist, Robert Sternberg defines practical intelligence as “’knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.’” Practical intelligence is “knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ.” Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, explores practical intelligence as a kind of “social savvy,” an ability to skillfully negotiate multiple social and professional environments.
So, back to the job interview. It’s important to recognize that the list of skills, degrees and previous employment is important. Those things will get you the interview. But in most cases, the ultimate decision to hire one qualified applicant over another usually comes down to the evidence of practical intelligence skills during the interview—especially social communication and negotiation skills. Most interviewers are looking for someone that will work as part of a team. They are looking for individuals that will be a good fit for the culture of an organization. And company cultures are dependent on the practical intelligence skills of each associate. An interview is essentially a preview or snapshot of what you will be offering to the company culture. And a healthy company culture is integral to the success of any organization.
So if practical intelligence is so important to success, how can one cultivate the skill? I recommend reading Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell—especially chapters 3 and 4. Gladwell meticulously outlines the benefits of practical intelligence and offers ways to nurture the skill. He does a much better job presenting it than I ever could in the confines of this blog post. But know that practical intelligence can be learned, just like any other skill. So taking every opportunity to refine good communication and social skills as it relates to practical intelligence is a plus. Read the book. At the very least it will give you something to consider in your next job interview. More extensively, though, you may recognize the broader application of practical intelligence and how honing the skill can be a benefit in nearly every situation.