What is interpersonal sensitivity?

The term “interpersonal sensitivity” refers to the ability a person has to identify what they feel, think, need, expect and what the other person’s personality looks like and so respond accordingly.

We are talking then about the precision in processing the signals and behaviors of other people and the identity characteristics of the personality, within which we can find the sexual orientation. This makes it easier to understand your intentions and helps us anticipate your needs and desires.

    Characteristics of interpersonal sensitivity

    Interpersonal sensitivity (IS) is, from this point of view, an important social skill which consists in make inferences about other people’s abilities, characteristics and states as a result of their nonverbal cues, for this the meaning given to the non-verbal behavior observed previously is essential.

    For Riggio, the ability to communicate non-verbally depends on the ability to properly regulate (manage), send (encode) and receive (decode) information. Given the definitions above, one could say that the last of these three aspects is what would correspond to the SI, that is, the ability to perceive this information.

    The SI, at the same time, it can be divided into non-verbal sensitivity, emotional sensitivity and social sensitivity. The first includes reading the signals of attitudes, intentions and interpersonal orientations (tastes, desires, etc.). While the second focuses only on emotional signals and the third on aggregate social information.

      Interpersonal sensitivity and emotional intelligence

      Interpersonal sensitivity is at the heart of theoretical models of emotional and social intelligence, understanding that it takes basic Sensitivity skills to be emotionally or socially intelligent. Thus, Mayer, Salovey, Caruso and Sitarenios and Cherniss have included the SI (emotional) as one of the defining elements of emotional intelligence.

      Thus, SI is necessary for the development of functional emotional intelligence while it affects the ability to perceive, interpret and respond to the emotions of others, having a great impact on emotional perception.

      In this sense, there is evidence for the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and SI perceived by oneself and by one’s peers, this Sensitivity being one of the ways in which Emotional Intelligence it helps people interact effectively with others.

        Interpersonal sensitivity and empathy

        Although at the theoretical level the concepts of emotional empathy and SI are related, their main difference is thatn empathy requires some degree of concern (emotional reverberation) for the other person’s condition; in addition to understanding their point of view, it is about cognitive and emotional responsiveness, while SI refers to the ability to read other people’s non-verbal cues and make correct judgments about skills, characteristics and states .

        Therefore, being empathetic includes the ability to be sensitive to interpersonal relationships, however, being sensitive to interpersonal relationships does not necessarily mean being empathetic.

          How does interpersonal sensitivity affect us?

          Sometimes conceptualized as a skill, it is essential for good social functioning. A clear example is that these children with a higher SI are better valued by their peers at school, while having a very sensitive teacher leads to improved learning levels of children (Bernieri, 1991), as well as less social anxiety and a better school self-image in pre-teens. In addition, low levels of sensitivity are associated with poorer personal and social adjustment in children.

          According to Hoyle and Crenshaw, using the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) as a benchmark, in the context of education, owning SI allows the person to perceive the needs and concerns of others, negotiate tactfully with others, work with others in emotionally stressful situations or conflict, conflict management, obtaining appropriate feedback, recognizing multicultural differences and dealing with people of different origins.

          Also found in the clinical population a relationship between social interaction difficulties and psychological adjustment with Interpersonal Sensitivity. Specifically, certain psychopathologies such as major depression or schizophrenia are associated with problems reading non-verbal signals in children and adults.

          Additionally, Davis and Kraus found an association of high levels of IS with less cognitive rigidity, more internal locus of control, more positive psychological adjustment, more emotional empathy, more levels of social intelligence, more interpersonal confidence, better relationships and more self-control. .

          Therefore, hypersensitive subjects have more positive interpersonal relationships, being perceived as more available in case of need of their presence or their help, that is to say that they are considered as the best social support.

          For their part, Hall, Andrzejewski, and Yopchick saw a positive association of SI with seven positive personality traits: empathy, affiliation, extraversion, thoroughness, openness, tolerance, and internal locus of control.

          This variable was also positively related to a series of social skills, including socio-emotional competence and the quality of relationships. On the other hand, they checked how SI is inversely linked to certain personality traits such as shyness or depression.

          It also improves work and leadership performance, and influences team member satisfaction and performance (Schmid Mast, Jonas, Cronauer & Darioly, 2012).

          As can be seen, SI is linked to a number of psychosocial variables, social skills and other indicators of positive adjustment that lead to better health and prevent various psychological, social and physical problems.

          Author: Borja Luque, general health psychologist and sex therapist in vitalizing health psychology.

          Bibliographical references

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          • Bernieri, FJ (2001). Towards a taxonomy of interpersonal sensitivity. In JA Hall and FJ Bernieri (Eds.), Interpersonal Sensitivity: Theory and Measurement (pp. 3–19). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
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