The Combination of People-Smart and Self-Smart Strengths

The Smarts #17

The Combination of People-Smart and Self-Smart Strengths

Today I’ll continue the series about the 8 great smarts with information about the important combination of being both PEOPLE smart and SELF smart. Everyone has all 8 smarts so there are many possible strength combinations. This one is valuable and it can be confusing. If you know people like who I describe here, I hope you’ll share this information. You can read more in my book, 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Childs’ Intelligences.


There may be no more important smart combination to understand than the people smart/self-smart combination. Think about yourself, your children, and other adults to whom you’re close. Any who have both of these in their top four may live in an almost constant state of internal stress and confusion. But understanding these smarts can free you and others to take advantage of the gift and power of this combination.

I often explain it this way: People who have both people-smart and self-smart strengths may be the life of the party on a Friday night. Their people smart was activated and taking the lead. They connected to most of the people. They were able to help some people have a better time by determining their mood, discerning what could change it, and then following through. They had a genuinely great time and said they’d be back the next Friday night.

One week later, they felt obligated to go to the party even though they weren’t really in the mood. Maybe they heard something on the radio, were asked a question by a teacher or coworker, or read a Bible verse that activated their self-smart thinking. They would have preferred to stay home where it was quiet and where they’d have space and privacy. Instead, they went to the party. But they stood by themselves and didn’t really connect to anyone.

Soon after arriving, a friend approached:

“Are you okay? You’re so quiet.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Ten minutes later, the same person asks, “Are you sure you’re okay? You can talk with me, you know.”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Ten minutes later, the same person stops by again. “Have I upset you or something? You seem distant.”

“I told you I’m fine! Just leave me alone!”

Is it any wonder that people with high people-smart and self smart-abilities confuse themselves and others? They’re equally skilled at bouncing ideas off others and thinking deeply within themselves. They know themselves well and they know others well, too. They’re comfortable with people and alone. Therefore, at times they don’t know where to go or who to be!

When I teach high school students about this internal conflict, many cry and thank me for helping them understand themselves. They tell me they thought they were crazy and in need of counseling. They tell me about conflicts with friends, parents, and siblings who complain they’re inconsistent and hard to figure out.

In the middle of my explanation of this phenomenon, some teens have actually shouted out, “That’s my mother!” Then others laugh and point to themselves to indicate they think they have at least one parent with this double strength.

In one-on-one conversations, teens tell me they’ve thought they were the problem. I’ve heard about how they come home from school one day and their mom wants to hear all about their day. Then the next day, they’re greeted with, “Not now. Can’t you find something to do?” I help them understand that several things can cause these different reactions, including high people-smart and self-smart intelligences. They’re empowered now to give their parents some space if they discern they’re in self smart mode and engage them in conversations when they determine their people smart skills are ruling. How freeing!

This combination can be very confusing so I encourage you to talk with children about this if it’s relevant. It’s a very important combination because the self-smart part of them knows things deeply and the people-smart part is confident enough to share the knowledge. We can’t afford for either one of these strengths to be paralyzed by lack of use or rejection because it’s too confusing. These children may be especially equipped to influence people. Parent them well!

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, (Moody Publishers, 2016), pages 220-223


Who do you know who has this smart combination? I hope you’ll share these thoughts with them and help them see their combination as a strength. Bless them with truth!