Social awareness for emotional intelligence

Improve your ability to understand others’ emotions and reactions and respond in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.

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Why this matters

The skills in this area are designed to help you strengthen the following abilities:

  1. Understanding others’ emotions

    • Recognize and understand the meaning, function and motivation behind others’ emotional reactions and responses

    • Engage in non-judgmental, active and reflective listening to better understand what others are trying to communicate and why

    • Express empathy, respect and appreciation effectively – both verbally and non-verbally

  2. Responding to others who are distressed: respond effectively to others who are emotionally upset or distressed. At minimum, you can avoid reactions that make a situation worse.


  3. Being flexible and adaptable: use inclusive approaches by understanding others’ unique attributes and differences, including diversity in:
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Sexual orientation
    • Ethnicity
    • Culture
    • Health status, including mental health
  4. Overcoming barriers to action: understand common barriers to responding effectively to others who are emotionally upset or distressed, such as uncertainty about what to say or do.

When you enhance your social-awareness of others’ emotional reactions and responses, you can improve your ability to communicate effectively. Individuals with strengths in this area are:

  • Excellent listeners
  • Understanding and empathetic
  • Non-judgmental
  • Respectful and appreciative
  • Comfortable discussing others’ emotions
  • Confident in knowing what to do and say when others are emotionally upset or distressed
  • Calm, even in challenging situations with others
  • Someone others seek out for support when they’re emotionally struggling
  • Understanding and inclusive of others’ diverse characteristics and emotional needs
  • Effective communicators who can tailor and adapt their approach to meet others’ individual needs
  • Proactive in providing support to others who may be struggling emotionally

Social awareness assessment statements

Each of the following are related to social-awareness and are included in the emotional intelligence self-assessment .

  1. Most people around me would describe me as a great listener. 

  2. I have a hard time understanding where others are coming from when they’re really upset.

  3. I’m uncomfortable when others discuss their emotions with me.

  4. When someone’s upset, I’m generally not sure what to say or do.

  5. I can easily remain calm when dealing with someone who’s emotionally upset.

  6. Others regularly seek my help when they’re emotionally distressed.

  7. I’m easily able to approach emotionally charged situations from a place of 

    non-judgmental empathy and understanding. 

  8. I feel comfortable dealing with others’ negative emotional reactions.

  9. I’m easily able to adapt my communication style to meet others’ needs and preferences.

  10. Unless I’m directly responsible, it’s not up to me to provide support to others when they are emotionally distressed.

  11. I’m generally uncomfortable speaking to others about their emotions and feelings.

  12. I generally don’t acknowledge others’ emotional distress unless they choose to come to me for support.

Social awareness strategies

Acknowledge differences 

There are many important factors to consider when dealing with others’ negative emotions, including the differences among the people involved. See Acknowledge differences to learn more.  

Practice non-judgmental interpretations

When we interact with distressed individuals, it’s natural to try to understand what’s motivating their negative emotions and reactions – often we can be quite accurate. But we may fall into a trap when dealing with negative emotions. See Practice non-judgmental interpretations to learn more. 

Respond to those who are emotionally distressed

When we see others who are distressed – perhaps by personal problems, mental health issues or work conflicts – we may experience a variety of emotions. We might feel fear, anger, frustration, guilt, pity or helplessness. It’s natural to have these emotional reactions, but they can prevent us from responding helpfully when we see people in distress. See Respond to those who are emotionally distressed to learn more.

Find action-oriented and reflection exercises that can help you refine your emotional intelligence skills here: Emotional intelligence for employees and Emotional intelligence for leaders.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonMyWorkplaceHealth

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