Social Awareness: What is it & Why is it Important?
Have you ever stopped to think about the importance of understanding those around you? How they feel, what they are thinking, or how your actions impact them?
Not in an obsessive way where you are constantly concerned about what others are thinking, but rather a healthy awareness and consideration.
With this understanding, relationships will be better, conflicts can be eased, and your impact on the world will be more positive. That is why understanding what social awareness is and how to cultivate it within yourself is an important piece of success.
What is Social Awareness?
Being the third step in developing emotional intelligence, social awareness is a skill that we all must work to build within ourselves. In a broad sense, it means having an awareness and understanding of the world around us.
This includes environments, cultures, communities, societal norms, problems, struggles, and all other areas that make up the social atmosphere in which we live.
But the way I am discussing social awareness is in a much more narrowed sense. I want us to look at how social awareness leads to the development of emotional intelligence.
One of the most prominent figures in the field of emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman. He breaks emotional intelligence down into four subsects: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
In relation to emotional intelligence, social awareness is best defined as our ability to accurately understand the emotions of other people and empathize with them.
Empathy is a large component of effective social awareness, and something we will go into more depth later on in the article.
Social awareness is all about taking the focus off ourselves for a moment and beginning to think about those around us. This can be very difficult to do for some of us, especially if we are often wrapped up in ourselves and consumed by our own thoughts.
It requires suspension of selfishness and self-absorbed thinking in order to accurately identify and understand how those around us think and feel.
The easiest way for me to understand social awareness is by one simple word: consideration. It all boils down to taking a second to consider how our thoughts, emotions, and actions impact others. This is a large aspect of external self-awareness which is why the two skills are often intertwined.
Consideration to me is a much simpler way of thinking about social awareness because since I was a kid, I’ve heard the phrase, “Be considerate of others.”
This refers to how my actions impact those around me. If I say something hurtful, how will it make the other person feel? If I act without thinking, could it possibly harm someone else? Or, on a more positive note, how can I be of the most service and benefit to other people?
Taking all of these questions into consideration, as well as many others, can help ensure we will be acting in a socially aware manner.
But, however you best understand social awareness, the fact remains the same that it is an important skill to build within ourselves.
"The easiest way for me to understand social awareness is by one simple word: consideration. It all boils down to taking a second to consider how our thoughts, emotions, and actions impact others."
Why is Social Awareness Important?
We are social creatures, and we live in a world where relationships and social interactions play a large part in a successful life. This makes having the ability to understand the emotions of others incredibly important.
If we lack social awareness, then it can cause our lives to be much more difficult and full of friction.
It’s not that social awareness all of a sudden will make us a social butterfly, it simply means we will relate to our fellow man or woman in a more positive and meaningful way. We will have a better time understanding their struggles and what makes them joyful.
The ability to relate to others is significant in creating rapport and building strong bonds.
What I would like to do is break down some of the key benefits you can expect from high social awareness.
One of the key benefits of building social awareness is the strength of connections and relationships it provides. A lot of the time when we hear these terms, we automatically think in a romantic sense. Yes, social awareness improves these relationships, but it is not limited to the romantic world.
Let’s think about it in terms of sports. This is a world where relationships are king. A truth that has been difficult for me to accept, but a truth, nonetheless. Whether we are talking about landing a starting position on a team, getting signed to a team, or even being given an opportunity to try out, relationships play an important role.
If you lack social awareness, it can be difficult to form such relationships. However, if you learn to master social awareness, you can build strong, meaningful connections.
For instance, having the ability to understand and empathize with your coach can help you build a stronger bond with him or her. In turn, they will be more engaged in helping you improve and reach your athletic goals.
Now, it may come off that I am saying social awareness helps to build relationships and this is good because you can gain something. However, that is merely a side effect. Building better relationships with your coaches, teammates, friends, or partners simply leads to increased fulfillment and a more positive interaction overall.
I almost titled this section “Avoid Conflicts” but that doesn’t really grasp the essence of social awareness in this case. See, some conflicts are unavoidable and by trying to avoid conflicts altogether, we may only be further worsening the issue.
Sometimes conflicts are necessary, especially when a certain topic or concern needs to be worked through. What social awareness provides is better management when it comes to conflicts.
When we get into an argument, without a high level of social awareness, we often become defensive and firmly hold our viewpoint. However, this is not a very good way to work through any kind of disagreement.
All that will result from this type of interaction is further frustration and arguing. But, if you have high social awareness, then conflicts can be navigated and handled in a more positive manner.
This is due to the ability social awareness provides to take the other person’s point of view. If we can understand why they are upset, why they feel hurt, or why they think what they do, then we will have a better chance of coming to a compromise or agreement.
In this way, conflicts will be much healthier and will actually have a positive effect on your life and relationships.
The two previous benefits should shed light as to how social awareness increases our overall positivity.
It’s no secret that a positive life is a better-lived life. Anyone who used to sulk about and now lives more upbeat and positive can attest that it is a much better way to live (once you get over the initial addiction to that negative feeling).
When we are experiencing better relationships, as pointed out in the first benefit, it will be easier to be positive about certain situations. Continuing the example used regarding a relationship with your coach, having such a strong bond will improve your outlook.
You will feel more positive about your sport, your athletic improvement, and your ability to keep progressing to a higher level.
In line with the second benefit, better-managed conflicts will lead to a better feeling of positivity about your relationships and your life in general. When we are constantly in a state of disagreement, it can be difficult to see the bright side of any situation.
However, when we are able to navigate such situations more smoothly, it is much easier to see a positive light in our lives.
"It’s no secret that a positive life is a better-lived life. Anyone who used to sulk about and now lives more upbeat and positive can attest that it is a much better way to live (once you get over the initial addiction to that negative feeling)."
As we grow in social awareness, discrimination towards other people will decline.
Whether this is discrimination based on culture, race, class, or any other factor, being socially aware helps to eliminate such thinking.
The reason for this lies in empathy.
Understanding how another person thinks and feels makes it incredibly difficult to discriminate and think poorly of them. Once you get to know the inner-workings of someone, you look less at their external appearance and condition and view them more for their internal beliefs and emotions.
Also, having the ability to understand multiple perspectives makes discrimination difficult to hold onto.
Most of the time, discrimination is rooted in differing beliefs. We feel that the way we think is right and so naturally, the other persons must be wrong. And wrong typically means we view it as inferior.
Instead, when we exhibit high social awareness we can empathize and understand why someone else thinks and believes differently than we do. This does not mean we must then agree with them or adopt the same views, but we can appreciate them for their unique opinions and outlook on the world.
Components of Social Awareness
Now that we have gone over what social awareness is in a broad sense and why it is so important, it will be useful to go into more detail as to what the components are.
The definition of social awareness that was given earlier sheds a little light on this but leaves a bit of room for wondering. What exactly makes up social awareness? What are the intricate characteristics that we all must possess in order to display this skill?
Well, there are four components of social awareness, some of which have already been alluded to. The components are as follows:
"The definition of social awareness that was given earlier sheds a little light on this but leaves a bit of room for wondering. What exactly makes up social awareness? What are the intricate characteristics that we all must possess in order to display this skill?"
This is such a big one, that it could stand alone in a description of social awareness.
Merriam-Webster defines empathy as, “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”
This really fits the overall definition of social awareness. Simply by focusing on being more empathetic, your social awareness will grow and become much stronger.
The second component of social awareness is perspective. This refers to the viewpoint we take on situations or concepts.
In terms of social awareness, it’s not enough to simply look at a situation from our own perspective. We must have the ability to see through the lenses of other people.
When we can take a situation, like a conflict as described above, and look at it from different perspectives, this shows incredibly high levels of social awareness.
The third component of social awareness is respect. What I am referencing here is the ability to give another individual your respect and consideration when it comes to their beliefs and opinions.
Being socially aware involves empathizing and taking the perspectives of other people, especially those of different backgrounds and cultures. This is primarily where respect comes into play.
We must have the ability to push our own opinions and judgments aside and truly listen and seek to understand the views of someone else.
Here we have the fourth component of social awareness. This is the culmination of the previous three into more of an actionable piece.
Compassion involves taking action on behalf of another person. This action is a result of the empathy, perspective, and respect you have developed.
Think about compassion as taking action for those who cannot take action for themselves. You stick up for those individuals who cannot, in order to alleviate their burden.
As an athlete, this can take the form of sticking up for a teammate who makes a mistake or a coach seeking to help lift the feelings of defeat from their players.
How to Build Social Awareness
In working to build social awareness within ourselves, there are certain guidelines we can follow to quicken up the process. If you wish to cultivate high levels of emotional intelligence within yourself, then focusing on improving social awareness is an important piece to the puzzle.
Become a Better Listener
If we want to improve our social awareness, then one of the easiest ways to immediately do so is by becoming a better listener. No, do not go out and get a hearing aid, that’s not what I’m referring to.
When talking about becoming a better listener, it’s all about our frame of mind going into the conversation.
Many times, we will be having a discussion or listening to someone with the sole purpose of responding. This puts us in a defensive mindset and does not allow us to really gain insight into how the other person is feeling.
What we must do is listen to understand.
Be inquisitive and excited to learn what the other person has to say. Give them your full attention and it will be remarkable how fast your social awareness skills begin to grow.
Pay Attention to Body Language
We can tell a lot by the way a person presents themselves.
While you’re speaking to someone or while they are talking, pay attention to their body language. Do they look tense or uncomfortable? Are they showing signs that you’re making them uncomfortable or angry?
By simply noticing the other person’s body language you can gain a better understanding of how they are feeling in that moment.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
I’m sure this is a phrase you’ve heard often but is it something you actually do? It can be quite difficult to actually put ourselves in the shoes of another, especially if we are in conflict with them.
But, in order to gain a complete understanding of their opinions and beliefs, it is a vital tool to use.
All that you have to do is think to yourself, “How would I feel if I was this person? Would what I am saying or how I am acting be upsetting or hurtful?”
Just by performing this exercise, you will automatically gain a higher sense of social awareness.
Social awareness is one of the key components of emotional intelligence. It is a skill that allows us to understand how another person is feeling, empathize with them, and take a different perspective on a situation.
It can be a very difficult skill to develop. We often get so caught up in ourselves that taking the time to understand someone else is not on our list of priorities. However, it is a valuable skill that we should all strive to cultivate within ourselves.
I hope that this article was helpful, and you gained a better understanding of what social awareness is, why it’s important, and how to better develop it within yourself.
If you have any questions about social awareness or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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