You can use this post as a training activity if you are teaching Social Awareness as part of training such as part of an Emotional Intelligence course. Or you can simply read the 9 steps to improving social awareness.
Improving your social awareness can be a great way to build your emotional intelligence and this leads to many benefits.
It can, for example, lead to building and increasing the empathy you have for others. The more you understand what people feel, the easier it will be for you to put yourself in their shoes.
Likewise, increased social awareness can help to make misunderstandings less likely to happen. Why? You will be more likely to be on other people’s same wavelength.
Furthermore, it can help you to avoid embarrassing situations. Social gaffes are sometimes caused by misjudging other people’s feelings.
Finally, understanding other people’s intentions and acting appropriately will help with social interactions in your personal and work life. By understanding what people feel, you can anticipate their needs and/or their intentions.
Activity: 15 to 20 minutes
Show the title of the slide below but do not yet show any of the bullet points, until after the activity.
Ask participants to form groups of 3 or 4 people.
Give them a sheet of A1 paper per group and some marker pens.
Explain to the groups that they need to brainstorm to come up with a list of things they would do if they wanted to improve their social awareness ability.
Ask each group to write down their list on the A1 sheet of paper.
Give groups 5 to 10 minutes for the activity.
After the time is up, start a discussion with the whole class for each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. Allocate 10 minutes for this.
After the discussion, show the bullet points on this and the following slide to compare their ideas with your list.
Below (after the online teaching suggestions), you will find an explanation for each of the points on the slide.
If you are teaching online
Use breakout rooms to separate participants into groups.
Once the group activity is over, bring the participants back to the main room for the whole class discussion.
The explanation of the points on the slide and you can use this as a guide to discuss with the class, the best ways for improving social awareness.
1. Listen and Observe More and People Watch
One of the easiest ways to get started with building your social awareness is to start spending a little bit more time observing other people.
You can do so as you sit having a drink at your local coffee shop’s table, for example. Watching people from afar is a safe way to study their behavior without being involved.
Watch how people move, how they interact with each other and the pace at which they move.
What does it tell you about them? How do they express their emotions?
2. Look at a Situation From Another Person’s Point of View
Ask yourself how you would behave if you were another person. For example, if one of your colleagues (let’s call her Jane) is asked a question that puts her on the spot, try to imagine being her and having to answer.
How would you answer if you were Jane? Put aside your judgment and your beliefs and just try to put yourself in Jane’s shoes. Base your thoughts using all the things you know about her, how she reacted to that same situation in the past, how she usually deals with people, etc.
You can test your understanding by having a chat with Jane after the meeting (if you are comfortable with Jane and the timing is right).
The more you practice and the more feedback you get, the more easily you will put yourself in other peoples’ shoes.
3. Think about Timing
Timing refers to asking the right question at the right time, to the right person, with the right frame of mind.
This is related to your ability to observe and listen to other people, without thinking about yourself first.
For example, you want to ask one of your colleagues (let’s call her Mary) something about the organization of the next office social event.
However, Mary is stressed because she needs to urgently sort out a technical problem with a customer’s account. You would not go up to her and ask which venue you should choose for the next social event but you would wait for a better moment.
This seems quite obvious but it is not for people who lack social awareness and do not pay attention to other people’s emotions. So, if this is the case for you, practice timing when asking questions by observing other people’s behavior.
4. Don’t Take Notes at Meetings
You might want to take your own notes and not rely on the official notes written by the note-taker during a meeting.
However, if you have your head down trying furiously to scribble everything, you might miss something important in the interactions that are going on.
For instance, you are writing and, all of a sudden, Tom and Louise start talking animatedly and almost argue. As you were not observing what was going on, you missed vital cues and now you are left in the dark as to what was happening.
During social interactions such as meetings, make a point to be attentive and aware so you can observe other people.
5. Be Socially Present
This point is somehow related to the previous one but it has to do with the distractions that go on inside your head. During social events, try to manage the chit chat that is going on inside your head.
Concentrate on what other people are doing instead of thinking about what you are going to eat this evening, for example.
Likewise, when somebody is talking, we often think about what we are going to answer while they are still talking. This means that we miss much of what they are saying, the way they are speaking, and all the other non-verbal cues.
Two strategies will help you. First, let the other person finish talking before you interject. Second, as soon as you become aware that you are getting distracted, bring your attention back, and refocus.
These things are hard to do but, as long as you are aware of these distractions, you will become better at concentrating on the other person.
6. Watch Social Interactions in Movies
Good actors are masters at evoking emotions in themselves and use them for interacting with other characters.
So, watching movies is a very good and a fun way to observe social interactions from the outside and good practice to increase your social awareness.
7. Understand the Rules of Cultures
Social awareness goes beyond just spotting cues in other people. In order to interpret these cues correctly, you also need to understand people’s background and their culture.
Culture can entail many things, including the country a person comes from, their social class, their age group, their affiliations, and the specific culture of a workplace.
To become better at social awareness you need to be aware of the rules of different cultures. The key is to treat other people the way they would like to be treated, rather than the way you would want to be treated.
8. Catch the Mood of the Room
Emotions are contagious and they spread around a group.
For example, imagine a room full of entrepreneurs who are networking and exchanging ideas. The room may be full of excitement with people talking in an animated way.
They will be interested in hearing what other people have to say and you can observe this from their body language and posture.
Now, imagine being in a room full of students who are expecting their exam results. They may be speaking quickly with each other or some of them may be waiting in silence on their own.
You will be able to gather the tension and the sense of expectation or dread from their body language.
So, the next time you enter a room full of people, watch how they behave. Do they gather in groups? What is their body language? Are they animated or subdued? What about the volume of their voices and the pace of their speech?
Dr Paul Symonds
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