by Dawn Stanyon
Real quick: Answer these five questions for me:
Are you able to understand the issues that cause others to feel engaged – or disengaged – at work?
Are you able to talk to them and help them articulate positive and negative feelings?
Do you easily read non-verbal communication – the body language that so readily expresses what someone may not be verbalizing?
Do you just innately know what makes people feel valued?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, it’s likely that you have high-level skills in emotional awareness of others. Congrats! *Cue fanfare, applause, streamers* The ability to easily recognize the types of emotions expressed by colleagues, supervisors, prospects, clients, vendors, whomever!, can make you a very valuable and respected player in the workplace.
Emotional awareness of others is the skill of perceiving and understanding others’ emotions. If you’ve done any training in or reading of emotional intelligence content, you know that these emotional intelligence skills can be enhanced. However, if easy understanding of others’ needs and feelings doesn’t come easily to you, here are some simple training exercises.
Here’s an example of high-level emotional awareness: Donatella enters the office and greets the receptionist, Jill, who is generally warm and open. This morning, however, Jill only briefly acknowledges the morning niceties and keeps her eyes down. When Donatella breezes by later on her way to the printer, she sees Jill talking to their supervisor with her arms crossed and a closed expression. And again later, on the way out the door to lunch, Donatella sees that Jill is not her usual engaging self. Donatella stops at her desk and says, “Hi! I’m heading out to get a bagel for lunch. Can I get anything for you – or do you want to come with me? I feel like we both need a boost.” The ultimate result of this exchange doesn’t matter for these purposes. The point is, Donatella acknowledges Jill’s projected attitude and has done something to help her move beyond it. A bagel doesn’t solve everything, but it IS darn delicious and a vehicle for connecting.
Here are three tips to increase your emotional awareness of others:
The next time you catch yourself planning what to say in response to someone…stop. It’s not always about you – it’s about your co-worker or friends or partner. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say – just hear what they’re saying.
Learn more about and pay attention to body language.
Most of us know that crossed arms can indicate that a person isn’t agreeing with what’s being said – they are closing themselves off. There are endless gestures and positions that people employ – often without thinking about it – that indicate their emotions. I recommend reading The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease or try Body Language: It’s What you Don’t Say That Matters by Robert Phipps (I haven’t read this one yet, but it has excellent reviews).
The next time you’re talking to someone, and you feel like they might be angry, make the effort to acknowledge their emotions.
When you do this, you get verbal feedback that might help you to better understand them and move a situation forward. For example: “Doug, I hear that you’re pretty upset with how long this project is taking. How can I help you?”
As always, with any emotional intelligence skill, there is the dark side. In the case of emotional awareness of others, one can be too empathetic and involved in other people’s lives. We’ve all had co-workers who always go down this road: they know everybody’s business and always try to help – often inserting themselves unnecessarily. We’re not advocating for this! You’re never going to be a nuisance to anyone if you simply increase your ability to listen, recognize body language, and acknowledge people’s justifiable feelings.