The Other Side of Emotional Intelligence

The next dimension of emotional intelligence focuses on others, and it is social competence (see Bradberry & Greaves, 2009). Social competence encompasses social awareness and relationship management. I’ll focus on social awareness in this post, which is essentially being attuned to others’ emotional responses.

Engage in the Moment
In order to attend to others’ emotions in your workplace, you first have to be aware of them. The only way to do this is to be present in the moment with others rather than focused on your next task, meeting, or concern. Think about one of the most influential leaders in your career. Did they often engage with you as if you were the only person in the room? I presume the answer is “yes,” as I often hear individuals I see in my private practice describe transformational leaders in this manner. Not only does this quality allow others to feel validated in their contributions to your team, it also allows individuals to feel you are invested in their learning and development. When you listen carefully in the moment, it allows for you as a leader to recognize employees’ strengths, areas for growth, and concerns in a more intentional manner. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So the next time you are pondering what your next email response will be when an employee comes to you to seek your feedback, remember those words.

Understand Nonverbal and Verbal Communication
We have all heard the concept that communication is a two-way process. What’s important to remember is that this applies to nonverbal communication as well. For example, are you attending to both nonverbal and verbal cues in social interactions? Are you noticing if individuals are leaning in when you share feedback, or are they distancing themselves from you? Are individuals closing off by crossing their arms as they speak with you? If you stay attuned to nonverbal cues, you may be able to notice an emotion that explicit, verbal communication did not indicate. Depending on an individual’s cultural background and identity, their primary form of communication may be more nonverbal than verbal. In order to have more inclusive and just workplaces, it is important to remember that communication is influenced by cultural contexts. If there is any doubt about what you might be interpreting, you can also gently probe or pose a question that can help clarify others’ emotions.

There are numerous other strategies for developing social awareness. One of the most important things to remember is that it begins with stepping outside of yourself. It begins with stepping outside of your own cultural context, needs, worries, fears, and goals, at least for a brief moment in time, to truly understand someone else’s experience. That is at the core of emotional intelligence.

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego, Calif.: TalentSmart.