Develop Social Awareness: If you are looking to better connect with others.
And share more meaningful, genuine interactions, perhaps you want to increase your social awareness.
Being socially aware means being aware of what others are feeling through what they are saying and how they are acting.
It also means being aware of the world around you and others and how our environments influence us.
Increasing social awareness means improving on your skills to connect with others — verbally, nonverbally, and in the community.
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Develop Social Awareness
1. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Empathy helps you understand someone else’s perspective. Being empathetic is vital for authentic relationships, genuine communication, and problem-solving. Because we are social creatures, we constantly find ourselves in situations where we could be more empathetic (or empathic – the words mean the same thing). Consider these situations:
2. Think about being in line at the grocery store.
The cashier is taking forever because he is new to his job. While you may be frustrated, you may also understand that when someone is learning something, they do not go as fast. You might picture yourself as the cashier, who is probably very stressed out that people are frustrated and grumbling. Because you are using empathy, you may decide to be patient and understanding.
Imagine your friend just found out her parents are getting divorced.
Maybe your parents are still married and you have no experience with this.
But you can consider how it would feel to hear this news, and respond how you imagine you’d like someone to respond to you, if you were in your friend’s shoes.
You might say, “I’m so sorry to hear this. How are you doing?”
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Develop Social Awareness
3. Identify your own emotions.
You can’t understand what other people are feeling until you learn and label your own emotions.
It isn’t always easy to figure out what you are feeling, though.
Here are some basic ways to help identify your feelings:
4. Talk to someone.
Sharing feelings out loud with others helps you get feedback, and also helps you sort through them as you talk.
Write in a journal. Write down what’s going through your mind and help process and name your feelings.
Think about your thoughts. For example, if you are thinking, “I have so much to do! The house is a mess and company is coming!” you might be feeling stressed out.
Carry a list of emotions with you. If you are new to identifying your emotions, then carrying a list of different emotions may help you to identify what you are feeling.
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5. Be an active listener.
Active listening helps you develop empathy because you are fully listening to the person talking (with your eyes and body language as well as your ears).
You will also echo back to the person what you are hearing them say.
- Be focused on the person talking. Put down your phone or other distractions and point your body in the direction of the speaker. Make eye contact with the person.
6. Paraphrase the speaker’s statements.
Paraphrasing is using your own words to describe what you just heard the other person say. This often helps both of you gain greater understanding.
- For example, if your coworker says, “I am never going to get this project done! It is never-ending!” you could say, “Wow, you sound really overwhelmed!”
- If you are off-base in your paraphrasing or reflecting back, the speaker will generally let you know with simple disagreement. For example, “No, I think I have control of the project. It just seems like it will never get done!”
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7. Reflect back.
Let the person know how what they are sharing with you makes you feel.
This helps you move towards further understanding of how the person is feeling.
- You can say, “I am so frustrated after hearing this story about your boss.” The other person will likely either agree with your statement (“Yes! She’s driving me crazy!”) or point you more toward how they are truly feeling (“I am so angry after our last meeting”). Either way, you further understand what this person is experiencing and feeling, thus building empathy.
8. Collect stories.
Learning other people’s stories helps us develop empathy for others because we have been given a glimpse of what it is like to be that person. Human beings seem to be hard-wired to retain and learn from stories. Many powerful stories tend to resonate with us long after they are told.
- Listen to other people’s stories. Be curious about people and ask them about their lives. Most of the time, people are willing to share about themselves, particularly if you are engaging in empathic behaviors and active listening.
- Read more books. Books help us become more empathic because we are often reading the character’s own thoughts and motivations. For the most empathic bang for your buck, read works of literary fiction, where the relationship dynamics and character psychology are often more developed than other types of books.
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Develop Social Awareness
9. Find common ground.
Look for common interests with another person.
This can be a stepping stone toward a deeper understanding.
- Maybe there is a new kid at your school who is from another country. You don’t know anything about his culture, but you are both on the tennis team. You could use the common sport as a starting point for conversation. From there you could talk about tennis players from his home country, then how his culture is different from yours.
10. Share your story.
Sharing your own vulnerabilities helps grow connections. Letting your guard down with someone can inspire them to share their own deeper feelings, where you are more likely to make a connection and build empathy.
- Sharing deeper feelings needs to be done in an appropriate setting and after some initial connection has been made. Don’t run-up to a person on the street and announce you want to share what it was like for you when your mom died. Get to know the person, and share deeper conversations in quieter, private settings–like driving in a car or playing a game one-on-one, not in a noisy arcade or while others may be eavesdropping.
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Develop Social Awareness
11. Think of a conversation as a spiral.
You start at the outer loop with more superficial conversation. As you progress in your conversation and build empathy with the other person, you move closer in toward the center of the spiral and it becomes more appropriate to share those innermost, core feelings.
12. Make a connection with the other person’s story.
For example, you could say, “When you told me about how you feel like nobody understands you, I got where you were coming from.
I feel like that a lot, too. Sometimes I feel like I will never meet anybody who really gets me.
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13. Watch body language.
Watch people’s body language in different situations. Notice how much people communicate with their bodies through gestures, posture, or head movement.
- that the same gestures can mean different things. For example, think about someone shrugging their shoulders. This often means “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” Or consider what it means when someone crosses their arms in front of them. Sometimes it means they are wanting to pull away from the conversation (think of it as a “self-protective” type of gesture), sometimes it can express anger, or sometimes it is because the person is cold!
- Imagine you had a mute button and could turn off the sound:
- Do you think you could figure out the context of the conversation by watching how people move?
14. Listen to the tone of voice.
You can say the same words, but change your tone of voice.
And the words will take on different meanings.
A person’s tone of voice conveys the emotion behind the words.
- For example, think about how “I’m fine” sounds when someone is saying it in a friendly tone of voice, versus saying it in an angry tone of voice.
- Test out your tone of voice by repeating a sentence, imagining you are feeling something different each time. How does “You scared me!” sound when you are pretending to be happy, shocked, angry, or sad?
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15. Watch facial expressions.
People have very expressive faces.
Even when we try our best to conceal our emotions, they are often present on our faces anyway.
- Look in a mirror and act out how you think you look when you are bored, happy, annoyed, or excited.
- Facial expressions can often be very subtle, and it can sometimes take a while to discern them. For example, when people are genuinely happy, they smile with their eyes. You can see their eyes get crinkly in the corners. In a less genuine smile, the eyes don’t change as much, and oftentimes the lips remain closed.
- Consider how the similar facial expressions often indicate different emotions. A frown can indicate sadness or anger, for example, or an open mouth can indicate fear or surprise. If you can’t figure out what the person is feeling from their facial expression, look for other nonverbal clues, like their tone of voice or body language.
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16. Examine physical distance.
Watch how close or far apart people stand from each other.
You can tell a lot about a relationship by the space between two people. Pay attention to your own physical distance as well.
- People who are in an intimate relationship may stand with no distance at all between them, while friends may stand closer together than work colleagues.
- If you are standing too close to someone, then you might notice that they keep moving away, turning away, leaning back, or crossing arms or legs. If you are too far away from someone, then you might notice that they are leaning in, squinting, furrowing their brow, or looking around and showing only mild interest in the conversation.
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17. Watch how people react to what you say.
People’s responses can help keep you aware of your behavior.
Watch their nonverbal cues and listen to what they say.
- For example, a person who says, “That’s great!” while slowly backing away probably does not want to have a conversation with you right now.
- A person who is leaning toward you, smiling and making eye contact, is probably genuinely interested in what you have to say, and you can take that as a cue to continue.
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18. Search for volunteer opportunities.
Connect in your community. Take your empathy skills to the next level by understanding what other people experience as a group or culture, for example. This will help you be socially aware at a community, or perhaps even global, level.
- Find a volunteer opportunity that requires you to listen to and tend to the needs of another person or group. For example, you may wish to work at a food pantry or soup kitchen to understand the needs of people in poverty. You may wish to visit homebound senior citizens experiencing loneliness. You may wish to help new immigrants learn the language of their new country.
- Explore service opportunities in schools, cultural centers, political organizations, religious communities or neighborhood activities.
Develop Social Awareness
19. Educate yourself about different people and their concerns.
Meet people in the population you are interested in.
Read books written by people in this group, or listen to podcasts with a host from this group.
This will give you insight into their lives and increase your awareness of problems they face.
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20. Travel abroad.
Immerse yourself in a different culture.
Step out of your comfort zone to experience unfamiliar groups.
Exposing yourself to diverse cultures and ways of life will expand your thinking and view of the world.
Being immersed in different belief systems.
Cuisines and lifestyles is useful for expanding your social circle and building tolerance for diverse viewpoints.
- If you are a student, spend a semester or do coursework abroad.
- Talk to people on your travels. Many people will be friendly and willing to share their country with you.
- To really learn about a country, venture out of tourist areas and into local neighborhoods. This gives you a better opportunity to see day-to-day life unfold.
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Develop Social Awareness
21. Travel to a new part of town.
If you can’t afford a trip out of the country, consider local opportunities to learn about other cultures.
- Visit a local museum devoted to an ethnic group or culture.
- Spend a day in an ethnic neighborhood in your community (or perhaps nearby larger city). Walk around the neighborhood and try a new food for lunch.