The prefixes inter and intra look pretty similar, but they have very different meanings. Inter means “between” or “among,” and intra means “within.” Despite their similar appearances, they are more or less opposites. We’ve included discussion of both types in a single post to eliminate confusion.
A person who possesses intrapersonal intelligence is someone who has knowledge of the person within. They are the people who spend time thinking about and working on their inner worlds rather than getting caught up in gossip or other distractions from the outside. This propensity for pondering can make them seem standoffish or antisocial, and most self-identify as introverts. This is not to say that introverts are always intelligent about themselves, but when you prefer to spend your time and energy on your own development rather than using it up on the details, it makes sense that there would be a correlation between the two. But, you can also have a person who is intelligent about themselves enjoy the company of others, so it is important not to over-simplify and label every “intrapersonally” intelligent person an introvert.
Thinking a lot about one’s self may sound selfish and even narcissistic, but this is not really the case when it comes to the intrapersonal intelligence. A narcissist thinks their needs come first, and that they are fabulous just the way they are. But someone who is intelligent about themselves concentrates on how to perfect who they already are, to become the best version of themselves. They are the philosophers, the theologians, and the writers. They are self-reliant and prefer to be their own bosses because they know what works for them and what doesn’t.
There is an entire branch of social science devoted to cultivating this type of intelligence: Psychology. The goal is to gain insight into oneself to illuminate the root of problems and ways a person can be standing in her own way. Very few people can truly do this one their own, which is why there are so many different types of counselors and treatments for the mind. It is not surprising that psychology is of interest to the intrapersonally intelligent person, and this is another career path they often take. Many psych majors confess that the root of their interest comes from a desire to figure out what makes them and the people around them tick.
This is another type of intelligence that can be difficult to “test” or use in a USAT challenge, but we have tried to include it when we can. We created a Mind Sprint called “Emoties” where students were given an event, such as “Your sister ate all of your candy,” and different emotional reactions one could have to an event. It was up to the students to think about possible reasons why something would make someone feel a certain way, even if it wasn’t the reaction you’d expect. People who have a high degree of self-awareness also make great team mates, because they know their strengths and weaknesses.
The beauty of having Interpersonal Intelligence is that it applies across many different situations. The ability to read body language (which often occurs unconsciously) and to empathize with others can make a variety of jobs, tasks, and social situations easier to navigate. Humans, on a basic, evolutionary level, are social animals, and those with Interpersonal Intelligence are in a prime position to capitalize on that fact.
You’ve probably met those people; the ones who get along with everyone. They can make small talk with ease but also show insight into difficult situations. These people can diffuse tense situations with a few words, and their presence or absence at a meeting can make a huge difference to the proceedings. And because they find social interaction simple, they won’t avoid it and will oftentimes seek it out.
It may seem like a simple shortcut to label a person with Interpersonal Intelligence an extrovert, the same way that intrapersonally intelligent people seem to fall into the introvert camp, but the two are different on a fundamental level. At its most basic, an extroverted person is someone who gains energy from social interactions, but that does not mean they are any good at them. They could want to be around people, but people don’t want to be around them. Extroverts are fairly common, but a person with a true propensity for interpersonal intelligence is far rarer.
These people are good at managing others. They can adapt their approach on an individual basis because on some level they can recognize needs and the emotional state of their employees. And in all likelihood, they don’t even realize they are doing it. Solving problems in a team setting makes sense to them so they don’t mind working with other people. This often spills over into their hobbies, because team sports offer a similar environment in which they excel.
Promoting Interpersonal Intelligence is an overall goal of US Academic Triathlon. Though it may come to some people naturally, working with others usually takes practice. The emphasis on teamwork can be found all over the competition, and we reward positive behavior, such as listening to one another’s ideas, in the scoring. Of all the different intelligences, interpersonal savvy is one that can be cultivated during the USAT years and carried far into the competitors’ futures.
For the final installment of the Multiple Intelligences series, we’ll discuss the last of the eight, Naturalist Intelligence.