This is Part Four of Six in our series on Emotional Intelligence.
Part 1 – Why it is Essential to Develop Emotional Intelligence
Part 2 – Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence
Part 3 – Managing Emotions for Success
Consider the following situations:
- When involved in a negotiation or a high-stakes conversation, are you able to see things from the other person’s perspective and use that information to find a mutually beneficial solution faster?
- Do you tend to take what people say at face value and then find yourself surprised that you missed key information?
- Have you witnessed leaders alienate or condescend to others either in person or on social media without realizing the impact they had?
Affirmative answers to these scenarios reflects potential lack of social awareness, the third characteristic of emotional intelligence in this series of articles.
Individuals with well-developed social awareness accurately read others and pay careful attention to how their own communication impacts the feelings, perceptions, and behaviors of other people.
People with fine-tuned social awareness notice things that others don’t. They can walk into a room and feel tension or pick up on subtle changes in how others feel as they talk with them. They are also very good at understanding another’s perspective even when it is very different from their own.
Well-developed social awareness helps leaders communicate more effectively, build trusting relationships, and collaborate more fluidly with diverse teams. Social awareness comes more naturally for some than others, but everyone can develop it by applying the three exercises below and practicing them consistently.
1. Empathy: the foundation of social awareness
Empathy gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking, helps us build trust, helps us understand why people react the way they do, and influences our decisions.
Empathy involves listening with the goal being to clearly understand someone, not necessarily agree with that person. During our Maximum Influence course, we teach 5 approaches to listening. Of the 5 approaches, evaluative listening is the most likely approach to undermine empathy. The primary purpose of evaluative listening is to judge what is heard. Empathy requires that you suspend judgment as you listen and simply try to understand the other person. If you’re not careful, your evaluative listening will inhibit your ability to empathize.
After attending Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence, Tim chose to focus on developing his social awareness. One opportunity he saw to practice empathy was during a national sales meeting. He spoke with a leader from a different part of the company who had been driving an initiative that wasn’t going over well, and that Tim didn’t buy into. As Tim spoke with this leader, he prioritized listening without judgment over addressing his own agenda. He said the impact was immediate and significant. He not only understood this initiative for the first time, he saw an opportunity to help get others in his region on board. Tim’s focus on empathy was the catalyst for what will likely be a mutually beneficial partnership across two teams that would not have happened if Tim had gone to that meeting pushing his agenda instead of understanding others.
There are countless opportunities throughout the day to empathize that will help you be more effective and help save you time, whether you are negotiating, engaged in a high-stakes conversation, meeting new team members, or delivering a difficult message.
In addition to listening without judgment, asking questions is another powerful and effective tool you have to understand others.
- “I’ve never tried that approach. Can you walk me through how it worked for you?”
- “What is your greatest concern with this approach?”
- “Can you help me understand what your team needs to do to make this happen so we can find the best way for our teams to work together?”
The more you ask questions with the goal of gaining a clear understanding, the more open others will be and the faster you will build trust and get things done.
2. Become fluent in body language
The vast majority of communication is conveyed through body language and tone. People rarely tell us how they really feel, especially in a business setting, so we may miss that they are overwhelmed, skeptical, disinterested, etc. unless we listen beyond their words. What tone of voice are they using? What is the person’s facial expressions and body language telling you? In order to increase social awareness and pick up on this information, it is important to become fluent in body language.
- If you’ve talked with someone who tells you they understood what you said, but they look confused, do you take their words at face value? Or do you use their facial expression as a cue that more communication is needed?
- If your team looks bored in your meetings, do you press on and assume they are really attentive? Their boredom may indicate that it is time to change your approach.
- If one person on your team looks excited about a change, do you leverage that nonverbal excitement to help get others on board?
Keep in mind that when it comes to understanding others, especially how they feel, it is important to pay attention to their nonverbal communication in addition to what they say.
3. Remember that social awareness includes both your interpersonal and online presence
Leaders are always being watched interpersonally and online. Are you aware of the emotional impact you have on others? Do you intimidate them? Do they feel valued? Do they perceive you as a leader with high integrity that they want to perform at their best for?
- One regional manager I worked with had no idea that the way he carried himself, looked at people, and sounded came off as intimidating. The impact was that his team was very reluctant to come to him with questions, problems, and even ideas. Your overall effectiveness is impacted by how others perceive you and feel about you. Are you aware of the impact you have?
Our online impact has become just as important as our interpersonal impact. I recently read a post by someone on LinkedIn that was very disrespectful of a former employer. Was that person unaware that a post like that would make him look childish at best and compromise his integrity at worst? Most people will lose at least some respect for a person who makes derogatory, rude, or distasteful comments on social media toward others, and that can have a lasting negative impact. Again, I would ask you, “Are you aware of the impact you have on others?”
I have coached many leaders who have been oblivious to how others think or feel about them. They simply had no idea that their behavior shut people down in meetings or that online comments caused people to view them as insensitive or unprofessional. Paying attention to how others respond to you both interpersonally and online will give you important information to help guide your interactions for greater success.
Social awareness, like the other characteristics of emotional intelligence, can be developed. Our course, Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence, focuses on very practical ways to begin developing social awareness immediately for increased effectiveness personally and professionally. If you’d like to learn more, join us for a public session on Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence or contact Heather Johnson to discuss options for bringing this topic to your team.