Social Awareness - Blog Top Image

Social Awareness

In the Moment and Strategic

We’re back at it with our series on Emotional Intelligence! First – a quick check in. We’re halfway through all four pieces! We’ve talked about self-awareness and self-management. How’s that going? Have you focused on yourself, your experience, and your needs in-the-moment much this year? What about strategically planning your day or communications to gel with when and how you work your best? 

Our next few strategies are going to switch the focus, because even though it might make things easier, the reality is that not everything is about us. Sometimes (a lot of the time, really), it’s about other people. The third component of emotional intelligence is social awareness – what’s going on around you? What do you know about your team members, stakeholders, your colleagues, the guy that empties the shred box every other week? 

The stark reality is that you’re not the only person on the planet. A lot of sticky situations are made even stickier when we make ourselves the center of it. We believe there is so much value and so much we can solve when we decenter ourselves and think about other people – their needs, their experiences, their feelings, and where we fit in so we can be useful. Now, that’s not to devalue our own needs, our own experiences, or our own feelings! Those are so important – and definitely critical components of Emotional Intelligence! That’s why we start with self-awareness and self-management, because EI really starts with us as individuals. But we can add to the equation to get a more comprehensive picture of the story, situation, or person and anticipate the responses and needs of others so we can get things done, be of service, or, sometimes, stay out of the line of fire. 


Social Awareness in the Moment

Tense situations are never fun, and they can be difficult to defuse. Most times, during conflict or tension, people feel unheard, misunderstood, or deeply connected to something. Here are a few questions to ask the other person, or just to think through, if you find yourself in a tough conversation or conflict where social awareness in the moment may come in handy.

  1. What is this person feeling right now? 
    1. If you don’t feel comfortable asking, check body language, tone of voice, facial expression. Are they defensive? Anxious? Angry? Frustrated? On the spot? Hurt? 
  2. What might be triggering those feelings or causing pain or discomfort?
    1. Do they feel excluded or left out? Maybe it’s communication they weren’t in on, maybe they feel their opinion or guidance wasn’t considered.
    2. Is there something else going on? Was their pain elsewhere on this project and they have a sour taste in their mouth? Was there loss on the project? Is there something going on in their personal life that might be affecting them in this moment?
  3. What is this person worried about? What’s important to them, what are they trying to avoid or protect?
    1. If you don’t feel comfortable asking, think about previous interactions or this person’s role on the team. What is it their job to care about? 

The fact of the matter is, as easy as it is to assume the worst or notice the bad, people want to contribute and give their best effort on their teams and on their projects. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand or see that based on their behavior or deliverables – that’s why it’s important to take a step back, decenter ourselves, and tune into how others are responding and understand that response and reaction to help us build empathy and work together. 


Strategic Social Awareness

Being aware of others isn’t just important in the moment during difficult conversations or times of tension. Understanding what people care about, their priorities, positions, and fears can help us plan and work together effectively – sometimes this level of awareness might even help us avoid those difficult moments altogether. Thinking through the following questions and building this kind of awareness about our team-mates can help you be pro-active and work together effectively, and it might even give you the capacity to make someone else’s day better!  

  1. What are this person’s “hot buttons” or trigger topics? 
    1. What are some potential things that can make it harder for that person to “hear” you, to make decisions, or to take action?
  2. When is this person’s peak “big think” time? 
    1. Ever caught a non-morning person before 9am? Catching people when they’re at their best goes a long way toward a productive outcome and getting what you need – whether it’s a problem solving, brainstorming, or feedback conversation. If you have a team member who starts running on fumes right around 3:30, try stopping by their work space with a friendly hello or an afternoon snack!
  3. What is their preferred communication style?
    1. We preach all the time how critical communication is, and knowing how people communicate best goes a long way toward making sure information gets relayed instead of lost so the right people can take the right action on it at the right time. Think of a colleague who you may have a strained relationship with – what’s their preferred mode of communication? Text? Call? Email? Face to face? Do you know? If you’re not sure, find out and try to prioritize that kind of communication with them!
  4. What does this person need to make decisions?
    1. Numbers? The full story? Bullet points? A good elevator speech? Time? What’s the right level and kind of information to help this person make a decision they’ll feel good about? And if you can’t give them those things, what might help them make a decision within the scope of reality and the time available? Have you ever tried to get a quick decision out of someone who likes to weigh all the options carefully? How can you support them while keeping things moving forward? 

As much as we all need reminding from time to time, the truth is you’re not the only person on the planet. You have a whole organization full of other humans with their own needs, lives, roles, fears, and preferences. Getting to know those differences is the only way you’ll be able to communicate and plan effectively from person to person to help everyone collaborate and get things done.

Getting to know people on a human level, eliciting their thoughts and really listening to their perspective so that we can understand them, helps us build empathy, strengthen relationships, and work together to get stuff done and make days better. At work, at school, in the communities we live, in the organizations we volunteer – all these places require us to work, to communicate, to live, and to play effectively with others. In order to do better, we need to know better – so get to know the people around you! Open your eyes, open your ears, and open your minds to those around you and stay tuned for our next newsletter on Emotional Intelligence to see how to put your newfound knowledge and awareness of others into action.

What are your thoughts? Join us on social media!



Topics: Communication & Collaboration

Anna Lehocz

About the Author

Anna Lehocz

Anna Lehocz is a Your Clear Next Step writer and communications specialist working part time while following her passion of teaching young students.





Receive a weekly dose of inspiration in your inbox by signing up for our weekly newsletter