Smart-asses and social intelligence


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My German teacher and our meet-ups

I was taking German classes for almost 3 years. I started during COVID-19 and continued for 3 years to reach the C1 level, and finally stopped the classes because there were no more people interested in group classes for reaching the C2 level. However, this is not the point of this post. I just wanted to say that I can now speak German too!

Anyway, the students in my class were mostly people in their 20s to 40s who migrated to Germany from all over the world and wanted to learn the language. Our teacher was also in his 30s working as a social worker for immigrants who came from troubled areas. All of us were working in so different and diverse areas that under any other circumstances we would not meet each other. But like Tango, the German language connected us.

During those 3 years of online classes, we got to meet in person 3 times. It was not for a lesson. It was just a social gathering. Friends who meet together to have a drink, dinner, socialize and just have some fun! During class time our teacher would encourage us to speak and would often correct our pronunciation or grammar or any other problem he spotted. Well, that’s why we were taking classes after all… right? However, when we met in person he not even once corrected us. We were certainly making a lot of mistakes, and we were certainly struggling sometimes but he was there waiting and not even once correcting us. Instead, he would respond normally like when you have a normal conversation with a friend. Moreover, when we didn’t understand something, he would just repeat it in simpler terms.

The smart-ass in the group

Now you may think that’s natural. But think about it. Have you ever been to a company of friends where one is acting like a teacher trying to correct you on your mistakes and insisting on them rather than focusing on the important aspects of the communication? Maybe a meeting in your work?… Or any other social activity? Come on… We all have met a smart-ass at some point in our lives. Or even better we all may have behaved like one at some point. Is it fun being a smart-ass? For the person being the smart-ass… probably yes. They show their superiority to everyone else in the group and they get somehow a validation out of it. But how does the group feel? Especially when the social context is totally irrelevant to the “lecture” subject. Well… let me tell you. If our teacher behaved like this on our first social meet-up I would not have joined the other two even if my German were much more improved.

So… now it’s my time to be the smart-ass. Do you know what social intelligence is? Social intelligence is a set of skills required to harmoniously interact and live with other people. It requires people to understand the context they are in and adapt their behaviour accordingly. When for example, I am dancing in a performance, it is perfectly fine to do a sequence that requires space and lifts and you name it. However, when I am in a milonga, this is frowned upon and with good reason. It’s like the teacher coming to the party and start giving lectures in advanced German. Well everyone is there to party… not to get a lecture or to hear and be amazed by their teacher. Acting like that in a milonga is just a sign of poor social intelligence. It means you fail to recognize your surroundings and adapt to them.

Now, some readers could comment that if they can do whatever crazy moves… why not do it in the milonga? I agree. They can do them in the milonga. It would be very fun for them. But what about the whole group? Would they enjoy yet another smart-ass lecturing with his dance? Isn’t the rest of the group there to have fun too? Why should one person’s fun limit or ruin the fun for others?

Limitation or an opportunity for growth?

The question that comes up is then. Why should they limit themselves if they can dance better than others?  If not for any other reason but to be social! Social intelligent people especially when they are knowledgeable on a subject would avoid getting into an argument or discussing their expertise. They would rather appear as normal as any other person than try to distinguish themselves from the group.

But why should you look at it like this? Why should think that you are limiting yourself to fit in a milonga when you might be one of the best dancers out there? It’s not a limitation. It’s an opportunity for growth. When you manage to adapt and yes… limit yourself to fit in the milonga context you grow your social intelligence. You learn how to read and understand other people’s emotions. You become a better listener… and in the end, you become a pleasure to be in anyone’s company. You are not anymore just another smart-ass that everyone in the group tolerates because of their status.

Not to mention that being socially intelligent makes people around you much more eager to open up and connect to a deeper level than just have a superficial conversation (and this goes both for the out-of-the-dancefloor and for the on-the-dancefloor conversations). People are much more likely to open up to someone who seems familiar and close to them rather than to someone who stands on a pedestal. So managing to appear and behave like one of them is key to getting more meaningful connections (if you care about them).

So it’s all a matter of perspective. If you see truly accomplished social dancers you will see that they can adapt and adjust to their environment, to their partners to the people dancing around them. They become equal with them instead of trying to set themselves apart. That’s what creates a truly amazing atmosphere for everyone in an event. Socially intelligent dancers!

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Well, I started the post by describing our meet-ups with my German class. They were always fun nights with interesting conversations, drinks, food, etc. The song that comes to mind for such nights is none other but “Una Noche de Garufa” and this time I have chosen a newer version from Tango Bardo which I’ve come to like very much lately.

So how about you? How often do you catch yourself acting like the smart-ass in the milonga? Are you aware of such persons? How do you feel when you dance on the same dancefloor with such a person? Do you enjoy it? Does it bother you at all? Maybe you know a way to avoid or get away with such a situation… Let me know.

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2 responses to “Smart-asses and social intelligence”

  1. Jennifer Eitel Avatar
    Jennifer Eitel

    Greetings! “Have you ever been to a company of friends where one is acting like a teacher trying to correct you on your mistakes and insisting on them rather than focusing on the important aspects of the communication? Maybe a meeting in your work?… Or any other social activity? Come on… We all have met a smart-ass at some point in our lives.”

    That’s not what a smart-ass is. You might call this person a “know-it-all.” I’m not saying north american english is the authority here, but as someone born and raised here, we use smart-ass to refer to the person who stands up to the person who is acting like the teacher in the group. The person acting like the teacher in a social setting you might call the asshole know-it-all, while the person challenging them is the smart-ass.

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      Thanks for the correction Jennifer. Obviously English is not my first language so… I guess I am forgiven.
      I always thought that smartass has a negative connotation… a person much like a know-it-all but with a negative spin because they always spoil the fun.That’s why I used it.
      Anyway… I guess you got the point so… Thanks again for the explanation!

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