Growing EI – Step 3: Social Awareness

Creative Commons Image by Hernán Piñera

Growing your social awareness is the third step in growing your emotional intelligence. There are three key parts to growing your social awareness. First, there is growing empathy, then organizational awareness, and finally taking on a service orientation.

In growing self-management I mentioned using a personality tool to discover your communications style and better understand some of the challenges you will need to overcome to strengthen communications. You’ll have a communications style you may assume fits everyone but doesn’t, and even may cause tension in your interactions with others. Applying that technique to others so you better understand how they like to communicate is a great first step. Then, you can adjust your communications style to better match theirs – not communicate like them, rather follow guidance for speaking to that personality type to have more effective communications, or at least to “get” their reaction to what you say and how you say it.

As you grow your social awareness muscle you use the same technique you use to better understand yourself, but you use it to better understand others. The picture below shows the four major personality groupings and how each sees themselves and how others may see them. It also provides some guidance for interacting with others. As you grow social awareness, you balance your need to be yourself with the need to interact with others and meet in the middle. Once you start seeing others, you can start to imagine how you would feel and react if you were them.

  •  To grow empathy:
    •  Don’t say or think you know how they feel
    •  Don’t feel sorry for them or say you feel sorry for them
    •  Do imagine how you would feel if you were them and their personality type
    • Do say or think “if I would you I would feel like…”
  • To grow organizational awareness:
    • Do try to understand the organization’s personality type or culture
    •  Do try to understand who shapes the culture and who follows the culture
    • Do understand what the organization is trying to accomplish as a whole and how you fit
    • Don’t try and make people in the organization understand you
    •  Don’t try and make people in the organization accept you as-is without trying to meet them in the middle
  •   Service orientation:
    • Don’t be untrue to yourself and your ethos
    • Don’t be wishy-washy and try to say what others want to hear
    •  Do repeat back what others say to make sure they know you heard what they were saying
    • Do offer your opinion after you have listened to theirs
    • Do agree and commit to follow what is agreed on, even if it isn’t what you think
    •  Do tell your management you cannot and will not follow the team agreement if you cannot agree and commit and stick to your guns

There is no “silver bullet” to growing your social awareness and you are sure to offend people along the way as you try to categorize others. You will try to sort them and do it incorrectly, and then try to communicate with them. They will feel as though you are trying to put them in a box and manipulate them – this is normal and part of growing your social awareness skills. But, that is the cost of growing your cultural awareness.

Growing empathy can be challenging, but it is worth the effort and will become easier with practice.

Andy Ruth 
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program