This is the fourth article in a series on Emotional Intelligence & Etiquette: A Winning Combination, written by Richard Cullinan, Head of the EQ Faculty at The British School of Etiquette. You can find out more about our Emotional Intelligence courses by clicking on this link.
How to enhance your social awareness skills:
If self-awareness is about looking inward, social awareness is about looking outward using your self-awareness. It is your ability to understand people in a social or business setting and respond in a socially integrated and perceptive way. To be socially effective we need to be fully present in the moment to correctly assess the emotions and motivations of other people when having a discussion, making a decision, preparing a presentation, hosting a dinner party or chairing a meeting.
What “people think of us” is a reflection of how effective we are in this highly connected and constantly evaluating world. How we present ourselves and our ideas and respond to social clues and cues is a calling card for our own success.
To become socially aware we need to quieten down the chatter in our own minds, stop talking and start listening for and observing other people’s thoughts and emotions so that we can shape outcomes through our own positive interpersonal influence, which includes helping others to manage their own emotions.
The key to being socially perceptive and effective is being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other people by occasionally compromising, tempering our strong opinions, and giving others permission to challenge our ideas. Complimenting and showing appreciation for what other people say and do with the sole intent to comprehend rather than always seeking to be right will unlock opportunities to build lasting relationships and find solutions.
Understanding what people are telling you by reading their body language, their tone of voice and the words they use to express themselves and the social dynamics at play should give you more than enough information to become interpersonally effective. Being approachable and seeking first to understand, then to be understood, is the hallmark of a successful communicator and a person who employs empathy to engage effectively with others.
Empathy comes from the Greek word “empatheia”, which means “feeling into”, a term used by theoreticians of aesthetics for the ability to perceive the subjective experience of another person. “Feeling into”, is using all your five senses and your sixth sense, your emotional intelligence, to read the thoughts, emotions and actions of another person or persons.
To be empathetic requires a caring mindset, a willingness to feel what others feel before acting on your own desires and impulses. It requires a mindset of compassion and intellectual sensitivity. The empathetic attitude has its roots in morality. For example, should I lie to keep from hurting a friend or colleague’s feelings? Will they know if I cheat just a little bit? Should I visit my grandmother as arranged, or should I go to a party with my friends?
The roots of empathy can be traced back to early childhood when the most basic lessons of emotional life are laid down in intimate moments between a mother and her infant. Repeated moments of attunement, the intimate mimicking and sharing of emotional messages between parent and child, shape the emotional expectations adults bring to their close relationships. When a child is neglected or a parent fails to show empathy for the child’s basic needs, the child may stop expressing their own emotions and could even stop feeling those emotions.
Psychotherapy works on the same principle as attunement. The psychologist reflects back to the client an understanding of his or her inner state, just as an attuned mother does with her infant, and this gives the client a sense that they are deeply acknowledged and understood.
We all want to be acknowledged and understood. Doing this for others will open many doors for you in your social and business life.
Other areas of social intelligence that we need to develop to improve our manners and our social etiquette include making a good first impression, greeting people by their name, catching the mood of the occasion, knowing what to say and what not to say, understanding the rules of the culture game and investing time in planning for your attendance at an important gathering or hosting an important event.
Here are a few ways you can enhance your social awareness:
• Learn how to read people’s facial expressions, tone of voice and body language so that you can become a better observer and listener
• Accept different cultures, societies and customs because you are genuinely empathetic and want to understand people rather than trying to make your point
• Plan for social and business events so you can be present and enjoy yourself rather than worrying about your performance