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8 social awareness strategies that will make you a better leader


You’ve probably heard about the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ). But, are you developing the skills that are essential for increasing your EQ? Social awareness is a key part of that.

According to the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, while self-awareness “involves looking inward to learn about yourself and understand yourself, social awareness is looking outward to learn about and appreciate others.

Why is social awareness important?

In short, social awareness focuses on recognizing and understanding others’ feelings.

Social awareness requires you to live in the moment – avoiding the clutter in your mind – to practice active listening and observing. All of these skills are important for leaders in the workplace. Without active listening and observing, you’ll miss out on the pulse of your team, what they need and how you can continue to grow and thrive as an organization.

How to practice social awareness as a leader

Here are eight tactics that can help you become more socially aware and, ultimately, a better leader.

1. Understand what it means to listen

Most of us think we’re good listeners. Unfortunately, the truth is that we’re usually too busy thinking of our next response to really hear what others are saying.

Good listeners don’t assume they know or understand a situation before hearing someone out. They listen, look for the facts of the situation and then analyze the emotions surrounding it.

When you slow down and really start listening, you may be surprised by what you learn about your employees and organization – and how you can help things run more efficiently with the new information at hand.

2. Repeat what was said

You say you’re listening. But can you prove it?

The best way to ensure you understand what’s been said is to repeat back what you heard in your own words and ask for more information, if appropriate. This helps to show that you understand what was said, and it conveys to the other person that their opinion is valued and heard.

For example, say an employee tells you that a project was completed late because of a deadline that only gave them three days to turn around the work.

In response, you might say, “I understand. This was late because you were given a deadline that was too aggressive for the amount of work required. How can we avoid this in the future?”

Active listening, like this, ultimately leads to greater understanding and trust among leaders and employees.

3. Pay attention to tone of voice

Ask any actor and they’ll tell you – the way you say something can be the difference between night and day.

For example, if an employee enthusiastically shrills with excitement while saying, “No problem!” it’s quite a bit different than an ambivalent mutter of the same words.

Notice the energy behind what your employees say to get a sense of how they’re feeling. This is especially critical during virtual meetings when you do not have visual cues. A person’s tone of voice can help you get a read on how they’re feeling, and give you a better opportunity to choose the most appropriate response or course of action. The best leaders are in tune with others’ feelings.

4. Watch facial expressions and body language

Stay aware of nonverbal cues. You must be present and giving your full attention to notice things like facial expressions and body language. While this will require extra effort, it can go a long way.

For instance, if you ask Adam if he has time to discuss something, and he winces while saying, “Sure, we can talk” – take notice of his body language. While he’s saying yes, his physical reaction is telling you it’s not a good time.

In this instance, you can say “I think I noticed some hesitation there about the time. Would meeting later today work better for you?” That way, your employee has the option to meet at a time that would be less disruptive to his day.

5. Keep a finger on the pulse of the office

Can you read the mood of the room? Can you sense how things are going for your employees, even if they don’t directly tell or show you how they’re feeling?

Observation skills are fundamental to social awareness. When you pay close attention to what’s happening around you, your awareness of your surroundings can help set the tone of how you approach varying situations.

For example, what is the feel of your office? Is there a good balance of intensity and fun, or does it swing too much one way?   Is there so much intensity that it has turned into tension and employees are getting overwhelmed? Or, is there so much good-natured fun that work is not getting done?

Having a sense of the mood and pace of your organization can help you determine the best strategy for maintaining a good balance with your employees. For example, if your team seems overwhelmed, could the work be outsourced or redistributed? Or, should you leave it in-house and order in lunch for your employees as a token of appreciation for getting the extra work done? Conversely, if there is work not getting done, take steps to help your team prioritize and focus, without losing the positive comradery.

Then, when that big proposal lands on your desk, you will have a good idea of who is available and best-suited for the task, as well as a realistic timeline for getting it done.

When you keep in touch with the mood of your office, decisions like this become easier to make.

6. Notice the details

If you want to be connected to your employees, you need to keep your eyes open to your environment and really see what’s in front of you.

Make the rounds in the office regularly and observe what’s happening. This isn’t about being seen – it’s about getting to know your workforce as people, and interpreting the mood of the team.

Ask questions to show your employees that you’re interested. For example, did Kyle just put a new photo on his desk? Let him know you noticed and ask about his family’s latest vacation.

7. Avoid the drive-by

When you’re moving through the room, you might be tempted to check some things off your to-do list by discussing any relevant matters with employees as you see them.

However, try to avoid drive-by meetings whenever possible. If you have a specific topic you want to discuss with an employee, always look for social cues as to whether it’s a good time to do so before diving in.

For example, is Samantha hard at work and looking like she’s in the zone? Don’t interrupt, but next time you see her, you can say “I saw that you were really focused on your project earlier. I appreciate that!” Then, ask her when she’s available for a quick chat.

That way, you let her know you noticed her dedication without interrupting her workflow.

8. Stop taking notes

While note-taking might have provided great value when you were in college lecture courses, the same practice in a professional setting can have unintended, negative repercussions.

It’s easy to miss something when you’re busy scribbling away in your notebook. Do your best to put down the pen and look up from your paper in meetings. In a meeting, you should actively engage with others.

And, notice when, for example, your employees start to check out in a meeting because the topics being discussed aren’t relevant to their work, or if eyes roll or the tension increases when a certain topic is brought up.

If you’re present in moments like these, you might see an opportunity to step in and steer the conversation in a more constructive direction or dig deeper to uncover underlying issues.

Move forward with improved relationships

As a leader, if you aren’t socially aware, your employees may feel like you have your own agenda and don’t care about their opinions.

Employees want to be included in decisions that impact their jobs. When they feel like their leaders care and can be trusted, they become more engaged.

By demonstrating good listening and observing skills, you build trust and understanding with your employees. Meanwhile, employees become more engaged and get a better understanding of how they can help impact organizational goals.

Want more leadership advice? Download The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management to learn more.