Emotional Intelligence: What is Social Awareness?

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Social awareness is our ability to accurately pick up on the emotions of other people and understand what is really going on with them.  Leaders have to suspend doing what they like to do in order to practice social awareness.  We have to stop talking.  We must stop the running monologue in our head during an interaction.  We should stop anticipating someone’s answer before they speak.  An we have to quit trying to come up with our answer while they are speaking.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Instead of looking inward to learn about and understand our self, social awareness is looking outward to learn about and appreciate others.    Social awareness is grounded on our ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others.  While we would like to only worry about our own emotions, we don’t get that luxury in leadership.  When we tune into the emotions of others, we can pick up on vital clues to what’s really going on with a colleague.  With practice, social awareness will help us better able to “read the room” and gauge a response that is “connected” with the persons involved.

How can you do it? 

  1. Make sure the lens you look through is clear.  What I mean by this is to make sure you are present and able to give others your full attention.  You have to be ready for your role as observer and able to use your five basic senses, and your sixth sense…YOUR emotions.  Your emotions are important lenses for your brain to interpret the cues from others.  Be mindful to not over project your emotions on others, but rather use your emotions as “spider senses” that alert you to pay attention.
  2. Watch body language.  A person’s body communicates non-stop.  While research varies on reportedly how much of a message is interpreted from non-verbal communication, we can be certain that if there is disparity between the “words” someone says and their body language, we believe the latter, right?  When observing someone’s body language, do a “head-to-toe” assessment.  Start with a person’s eyes – are they maintaining eye contact (open, sincere, caring) or are their eyes shifting or blinking (maybe deception) or cast downward (sad, depressed).  Is the person’s smile authentic or forced?  Is the person’s posture slouched, or upright?  What position are the hands/gestures?  All of these cues can help inform your social awareness of an interaction.
  3. Listen.  Certainly, listening is about hearing the words used.  But great listening is also about hearing the tone of those words, the speed at which they are used and even the spaces between the words.  Make a conscious effort to stop everything and listen fully to others.  Don’t answer email when someone is speaking to you.  When your son asks you a question, put your lap top down.  Focus your attention, observe (see above) and fully listen, and you will more accurately piece together the intended message.

Can you think of an example where practicing one of the above social awareness skills might have change the outcome of a leadership situation?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

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