The Highs and Lows of Social Awareness in the Workplace

Social awareness; another one of those fancy words thrown around usually in frustration when people aren’t listening or agreeing with us...“Argh they clearly lack social awareness!”

While it is part of emotional intelligence, it is not a word that we use frequently or find ourselves referring to our own level of social awareness. So, in layman’s terms, what exactly is social awareness?

Have you ever had a delicious fish dinner and decided the leftovers will be perfect for tomorrow’s lunch. So, you take them into work and reheat the fish in the workplace kitchen microwave filtering a delightful odour of dead fish for all your work mates to smell, then wonder why everyone is complaining and making a big deal about it? It’s moments like these that our social awareness is at a low.

A bit of history on the concept; one of the most well-known social awareness models was developed by Stephen Greenspan in 1981. Social awareness was one of the three behavioural concepts identified in social development of children. Greenspan went on to develop the social awareness model which includes social sensitivity, social insight, and social communication. Interesting, but how does this relate to adults in the workplace?

It is a given that in any workplace, people will need to interact. We know that the behaviour of each person directly influences the outcome and the culture of the workplace. We can have the most highly qualified workplace with brilliant ideas, technical skills and innovation but if the behaviour and interaction of the people is poor, the success of the workplace will be unlikely or short lived.

Based on my 5-part methodology to Emotional Intelligence, social awareness fits into the ‘Feel It’ and ‘Ask It’ concepts.

Let’s look at the ways in which we bring the social awareness model into each of the concepts.

Feel It

The Feel It concept challenges us to understand how other people ‘feel’ and how we make them ‘feel’. Social sensitivity and social insight are simply:

  • getting to know what makes other people ‘tick’,
  • understanding the different roles we both play,
  • how to empower and empathise.

The more we can understand other people and why they do what they do (without judgement) our ability to work cohesively and efficiently increases. We know that workplaces are driven by people and each of these people have different wiring.

Ask It

Ask It is all about asking the right questions and answering the questions that are being asked. Social communication is reliant on our ability to interact with other people in a way that the recipient understands and can respond appropriately. It includes:

  • working with the emotional undertone of words,
  • having honest and tough conversations that don’t trigger defence mechanisms but instead reach desired outcomes,
  • identifying styles of communication and how to positively influence the outcome through communication.

Communication is not about us, it is 100% about the person receiving the message. If they don’t understand it, then that’s on us. We didn’t deliver it in a way that they could comprehend.

The workplace is filled with examples of social awareness highs (times when we nail this) and lows (times when we really don’t).


  • listening and understanding that it’s ok for Bob to have a different opinion to me on how easy our process is to use. Sometimes there isn’t a ‘right or wrong’ answer.
  • Recognising that every minute of every day is not brilliant. Some moments really suck and that’s ok! No-one likes fake positivity, feel the feels (the emotion) but don’t unpack your bags and stay there. Know how to move on.
  • Knowing that emotions are highly contagious starting with the way we enter the workplace each day. The way we make people feel will last longer that anything we do.


  • Thinking everything is about us and revolves around us. If people disagree with me, then I should keep going until I can convince them to see it my way.
  • When honest or tough conversations are avoided and instead become the whispered conversations with others.
  • Emotions don’t belong in the workplace so pretty much leave your humanistic side at home.

Our workplaces combined level of social awareness will directly influence our culture and performance levels. Can we ever really reach our highest performance level if we don’t like what we do or who we are doing it with?

There is nothing ‘casual’ or ‘soft’ about social awareness. It is at the core of any successful organisation, workplace and individual.



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