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The Social Side of Emotional Intelligence
By Scott Morrell

Have you ever had a co-worker approach you, and without saying anything, they understood what kind of day you were having?  They could see your emotions written all over your face. Or maybe you’ve had that co-worker who seems to calculate what they say and is aware of how their actions affect others.  Perhaps you've had a co-worker who is humble and takes responsibility for their mistakes.


More than likely, these people have an understanding of social awareness and relationship management skills, the two social competencies of emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. (For some additional background, read our other articles on emotional intelligence.)  While these individuals may seem like seasoned veterans, its more than likely they have developed and practiced these skills over time to recognize and understand the moods of other individuals or entire groups of people.  

Social Competencies 

Bradberry, & Greaves (2009) in Emotional Intelligence 2.0 provide multiple strategies to help us maximize our social awareness and relationship management skills. While this isn't the whole list, consider which of these strategies might positively impact the social competencies of your own emotional intelligence growth.


Social Awareness Strategies

The key to social awareness is focusing on others instead of yourself.  Social awareness is centered on your ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others.  It's perceiving what other people are thinking and feeling.

  1. Watch Body Language. The body communicates nonstop and is an abundant source of information. Assess body posture, eye movements, hand gestures and facial expressions.  They all relay a message.  Body language often communicates how people are really feeling-even more than their words. 
  2. Develop a Back-Pocket Question.  A back-pocket question is what you use just in case to bail you out of awkward silence or uncomfortable moments.  It can be something like, “What do you think about [fill in the blank]?” or "Tell me how your kids are doing." 
  3. Practice the Art of Listening.  Listening is a strategy that is losing ground in today’s busy society.  Listening requires focus, and focus isn’t easy when we’re stretched in multiple directions.  Try this-when someone is talking to you, stop everything else and simply listen.  Make notes of what you hear.
  4. Go People Watching.  People watching is a safe way to pick up on signals, observe interactions and figure out underlying emotions or motivations without entering into the interaction yourself.  When you take the time to observe, you will notice how people reveal their mood.
  5. Catch the Mood of the Room.  When you enter a room, scan it.  Notice what you see or feel. Tension? Excitement? Quiet? Calm? Take note of how people arrange themselves.  Are they alone or in groups?  Are they talking?  Interacting?  What is body language revealing?

Relationship Management Strategies

Relationships take work. They take time, effort and know-how.  And if you want a relationship that grows over time, in which your needs and the other person’s needs are satisfied, relationship management skills are essential.

  1. Avoid Giving Mixed Signals.  People trust what they see over what they hear.  Make sure body language and tone align with what you’re saying or your sending mixed signals.  When you catch yourself sending a mixed signal, readjust to match it or explain it.
  2. Take Feedback Well.  Feedback is meant to help us improve in ways we perhaps cannot see on our own.  However, receiving it well can be challenging.  First, consider the source.  Do they know you well enough to provide relevant feedback?  Next, listen to what they have to say and ask questions to clarify their perspective.  Last, after receiving the feedback, decide your next steps. 
  3. Build Trust. Cultivating relationships and building trust is something that takes time, can be lost in seconds, and may be our most important and most difficult objective in managing our relationships. Having open communication; a willingness to share; consistency in words, actions and behaviors; and reliability in following through on agreements all work to build a trusting relationship.
  4. Explain Your Decisions, Don’t Just Make Them. Take time to explain the why behind a decision and why the final outcome made the most sense.  Being transparent and open when explaining decisions helps builds trust and makes people feel more respected and connected.  The Millennial workforce especially needs to hear "the whys" behind our declarations.
  5. Tackle a Tough Conversation.  Tough conversations are inevitable so forget running from them.  Acquiring skills to navigate them can make them easier. Consider these ideas: ask the person to help you understand their side, help the other person understand your side, resist the urge to plan a rebuttal, move the conversation forward and keep in touch.

Emotional Intelligence is a skill set that can be learned.  And with a good understanding if it, we can improve on how we relate to others and we can adjust our behavior so that we deal with relationships positively.   What are a few fundamental changes you might make now that will improve your relationships for the future both personally and professionally? What would you like to begin to train your brain to do today to benefit you in years to come? We encourage you to challenge yourself.  It may be difficult, but that's when we see the most growth.