June 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT2

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Coalition Intelligence

Individuals who have developed both interpersonal intelligence, the ability to work well with people, and a mastery of information are more likely to be successful coalition members than persons whose mastery is information only.

Ruth M. Conone
Associate Professor Emeritus
Ohio State University Extension
Columbus, Ohio
Internet Address: conone.1@osu.edu

Penne L. Smith
Assistant Professor
Ohio State University Extension
Athens County
Athens, Ohio

Why do some coalitions succeed and others fail? Why do some coalitions achieve significant impact and others achieve existence only on paper? What are the characteristics of members of coalitions which achieve significant impact?

Howard Gardner's conceptualization of seven distinct types of intelligence describes the capacity to work effectively with others as interpersonal intelligence. (Armstrong, 1994) This intelligence is distinct from linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical and intrapersonal intelligence.

Coalesce means "to grow together, to unite into a whole, to unite for a common end; join forces with people holding different points of view."(Webster's, 1993) Coalescence is a critical function for agency representatives as they work together to address complex societal issues such as teen pregnancy. Programs which are successful in helping children and families offer a broad spectrum of services and regularly cross traditional professional and bureaucratic boundaries.(Schorr & Schorr, 1988) People from diverse backgrounds need to be able to work together effectively to achieve coalition objectives. This ability to work together is interpersonal intelligence.

Professional groups and agencies each have "cultures" that identify expectations for working with people within and outside the group or agency. When individuals from various professions and agencies work together to address a problem such as teen pregnancy, they need to find ways to work with people with points of view different from their own. Agency representatives often have distinct ways of describing the problem, different information about the problem, and diverse ideas about how to solve or mediate the problem. As they come together to "unite into a whole to reach a common end" they use interpersonal intelligence.

Individuals with interpersonal intelligence are described by Gardner as "people smart." Their learning style is to lead, organize, relate, manipulate, mediate, and socialize. These individuals are able to lead or support the leadership of someone else by organizing, relating or mediating. Each of these skills is needed in effective coalition functioning.

Interpersonal intelligence is expressed as cooperative group work, interpersonal interaction, conflict mediation, peer teaching and sharing, mentor ship, group brainstorming, community involvement, and use of social gatherings as a context for learning. Individuals with this capacity are oriented toward group problem solving rather than individual efforts. They are effective in coalescing because their skills enable them to come together to work on the coalition purpose.

Gardner provides a conceptualization of interpersonal skills as specific intelligence that needs to be valued and developed just as basic math and reading skills, which he refers to as logical-mathematical intelligence and linguistic intelligence. Educators who understand and value distinct forms of intelligence are able to support individuals in developing and using these distinct capacities.

A component of many personnel evaluation processes is "works well with people." Rather than regarding this just as a useful trait, perhaps the ability to work well with people ought to be given as much importance as the intelligences illustrated by mastery of knowledge or ability to follow organizational guidelines. The ability to work well with people is not just a useful characteristic but an essential quality.


Armstrong, Thomas. (1994). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary(10th ed.).(1993). Springfield, MA:Mirriam-Webster.

Schorr, Lisbeth, Daniel Schorr. (1988). Within Our Reach:Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage. New York:Doubleday.