The Smarts #15 - People Smart: Thinking By Connecting

The Smarts #15

People Smart: Thinking By Connecting

Today I’ll continue the series about the 8 great smarts with information about being PEOPLE smart. You can read more in my book, 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Childs’ Intelligences, including how to strengthen this smart, and how it relates to learning, relationships, careers, character, and spiritual growth.


People-smart children think with people. When they’re excited, they talk more to more people. They need people to listen to them, interact with them, and react to their ideas. They get joy from sharing what they know and from understanding people. Thinking by connecting is their power.

Being people smart includes the definite strength of reading body language. These children know if someone is mad, glad, or sad. If your child is able to discern that you’re concerned and not angry, or content and not bored, it’s because he or she is people smart.

At the high end of the people-smart hierarchy is the child who can accurately discern someone’s mood, intention, and desire as well as respond appropriately. For example, as some people-smart children talk, they can discern listeners’ reactions by observing changing facial expressions and body language. Have you noticed your son doing this? When he comes to you with a question, do you ever think he’s going in one direction, only to have him change his question midstream? Maybe he observed something in your reactions that concerned him. He didn’t want you to answer “no,” so he changed the wording of his question in hopes of getting a “maybe” or “yes” response.

These children can comfort others after determining they’re sad and give you some space when they discern you’re disappointed. They know to befriend the lonely and why a small group isn’t working well. They can recognize someone’s joy and choose to ask about it so they can share in the experience. I highly value friends of mine who choose to do this. In return, I look for opportunities to put them first and respond to the feelings I sense in them. This give-and-take strengthens our friendships. Married friends tell me being people smart in these ways definitely helps their marriage.

The opposite are children who walk right up to you and are clueless about your mood. They may begin to tell you about their day, not noticing you’re deep in thought. They may not notice you’re concentrating on a task and get quickly upset when you don’t immediately break away to pay attention to them.

The abilities of children to read and respond well to facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are among the important reasons to awaken this smart early. It’s what helps children choose friends and form healthy friendships. It allows them to discern who is for them and who is against them. It’s how they know who to give a second chance to and who to stay away from for at least a while after they’ve been hurt.

Yet because of texting, handheld devices, and eyes looking down, this smart is being awakened later than in the past. I’ve seen far too many parents answer children’s questions without ever looking up from their game or social media feed. And, of course, I’ve seen children do the same.

People smart is rich, like other smarts, with multiple facets. It doesn’t just explain friendships. It also explains why some people think well with others. The ability to interpret facial reactions, body language, and tone of voice stimulates thinking. It’s one of my strengths and, initially, new friends and staff can find it confusing. I might talk to them, not need them to say anything, but say “Thank you” as I leave the room. They come to understand that I observed reactions that didn’t need to be accompanied by words. Did they react with surprise at my idea? Did they quickly look confused or amused? I use their reactions to know how to keep thinking about ideas.

Those of us who are people smart especially like bouncing ideas back and forth. It’s a strength. We think well with others and it’s a huge part of our belonging. We sometimes don’t know if our ideas are good until we hear ourselves verbalize them and watch and hear someone respond. Just as others help us refine our ideas, we can help them refine theirs. Children enjoy finding out this is normal for many of us and evidence of a specific smart.

People-smart children, who need people to think with, are different from extroverts who make friends easily and are energized by people. Children and adults can be both people smart and extroverted. If so, they will especially be known for being surrounded by others because they need them for energy and for thinking.

If your daughter is extroverted, but not people smart, she’ll want to be with people, but won’t necessarily need to think with them. It’s more about their presence and the energy they collectively create. Remember to use the interactive online checklist to help you determine whether she is people smart.

While people-smart extroverts have internal consistency, if your son is people smart and an introvert, he may be confused and he may confuse others. Introverts tend to keep their ideas to themselves and get their energy when they’re alone. They often avoid people because they drain them. Can you feel the conflict? He needs to be with people to get his thoughts clarified, but he doesn’t want to be with people because fatigue will set in. He’s stuck. He can be unsure of himself. To his friends, he can appear inconsistent and they can get frustrated. Your son will benefit from feedback you provide as you observe him in different settings. As you decrease his frustration by helping him navigate different situations, you’ll increase his security and clarify his identity.

The extroverted/people-smart design and introverted/people smart design can be as confusing and important to understand for adults as they are for children. If you think one or the other might explain some of your internal confusion and relationship struggles, read these four paragraphs again. Or maybe this might be relevant for your spouse, parents, or coworkers. I’ve found too many people have been forced into limiting boxes. “Oh, you’re extroverted. Therefore, you ______________.” But, it’s not that simple. We’re not that simple. God creates us to be successful so we often have dynamic facets that internally may conflict and confuse us. But, if we don’t allow them to be paralyzed but choose to understand them instead, we can be freed to be who God intended for us to be when He chose in His love to make us, us. Yes!

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, (Moody Publishers, 2016), pages 186-190


Who do you know who is people smart? Affirm these people. If you think they haven’t thought of themselves as smart, make sure to talk with them. If you think others have put them down, talk about that, too. Because these children are also word smart and logic smart, hopefully this hasn’t happened. But, it does happen. Being people smart is a smart! Also, how could you help them benefit others because they’re people smart? Talk with them.