Social Awareness: The Ability to Understand and Be Empathetic

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Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the capacity that we all have to lead our relationships and ourselves.  EI consists of four essential capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills.

In my previous articles, we navigated through self-awareness and self-management, investigating how self-knowledge and self-control are important in the process of leading ourselves.

The first step to start leading others is social awareness, which is the person's ability to consider the perspectives of other individuals, groups or communities and apply that understanding in their interactions. It is composed of empathy, organization awareness and service orientation.

Let’s Talk about Empathy

What is Empathy? How can you show empathy to those who suffer and are struggling? Why is empathy so important in the workplace?

Empathy is the ability to understand another person's view and feelings. It is “to walk in someone else’s shoes” and see the world from their perspective rather than our own.

The word "empathy" appeared for the first time in the 20th century, and it was described as a combination of cognitive aspects and emotional feeling. Currently, for some authors it is identified as a “soft skill”, but for others it is a “neurobiologically based competency”.

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman break down the concept of empathy into the following categories:

Cognitive empathy is the ability to recognize, imagine and understand another person’s thoughts and feelings. When we practice cognitive empathy, we are practicing taking the perspective of another person. We are imagining ourselves in their situation and we understand why they would be feeling sad or disappointed in specific circumstances. Cognitive empathy helps us to convey a message in a way that best reaches the other person. 

Emotional empathy is the skill to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else’s thoughts and feelings. This type of empathy helps us to build connection with others.

For the social psychology researchers Hodges and Myers, emotional empathy is about feeling the same emotion as the other person, to respond to the pain it can cause and when we feel compassion toward the other person.

However, Ekman goes beyond, defining compassionate empathy, also studied by Goleman. In his view, empathy goes beyond understanding or sharing other person’s feelings. It also provides space for mutuality, for sharing experience and to connect with other’s lives and feelings.

Compassionate empathy is the ability to understand, feel and connect to other’s pain, in such a way, that it moves you to a concrete action, helping to relieve it. It is seen as “the key” for human connection.

But How to Build or Practice Empathy?

In this line of thought, empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed. In each interaction you have with others, it is a chance to learn new ways of thinking, to share feelings and to make a difference, contributing and helping to others' growth. 

The simple act of listening to what other people have to say and appreciating their unique points of view demonstrates your respect for them and their ideas. Being sensitive to what others are going through creates ties that make it easier to be connected and accept guidance. These actions build mutual empathy and understanding.

Therefore, before you engage with another person, consider that you do not know everything about them, and be ready to learn and listen. Avoid being judgmental and keep in mind that your interpretation of a person's mood or thinking will be influenced by your prior experience and unconscious bias.

Another example, when a person tells you about a personal struggle, listen carefully. Do not jump to conclusions or try to interrupt and share your personal experience. Focus on understanding how the person feels, and why they feel that way.

It is not easy to show empathy when relations are so fluid and change rapidly. However, once you find a way to connect with the other person's feelings and have a more complete picture of the situation, you're ready to show compassionate empathy.

Empathy allows people to build social awareness and to build connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, we are able to respond appropriately in social situations.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

When people experience empathy, they are more likely to engage in behaviors and social activities that benefit other people. Empathy is highly important and contributes to creating healthy and positive work relations. In this sense, it is the key to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

It requires empathy and sensitivity to understand and accept the plurality of perspectives and experiences. The differences that bring learning and new possibilities.

Lastly, it also requires empathy, to teach and influence someone that is not used to identifying with cultural diversity. It is about helping them to amplify their view, to promote awareness and to share knowledge. It is a journey of learning and perseverance.

Diversity and Inclusion: HR’s Guide to a Successful Strategy

More and more emphasis is being put on diversity and inclusion in today’s world, but what does that mean for HR? In this definitive guide, read about the current state of affairs, potential strategies and the rewards associated with an effective strategy.