Awareness: /əˈwer.nəs/ noun:  the knowledge that something exists, or understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience.

Others: [uhth -erz] plural noun: that which is distinct from or different from oneself.


What is it?

My husband, Harmon shares about the personal impact of having grown up in Africa with the Zulu greeting, “Sawubona”, which translates as, “I see you”, but is so much more. It is a sacred thing to see another person. “Sawubona” is when I choose to intentionally step away from me – my perspectives, assumptions and conclusions – and become present, seeing you, here and now, as a person worthy of my attention, honor, and respect. When I do this, I am being true to my identity as Image-Bearer, for it was God who first chose to see.

 A couple months ago, we looked at Self Awareness; that was about looking inward to learn about and understand ourselves better. Awareness-of-Others is about how well we look outward to learn about and appreciate other people (Bradberry, p. 136). It’s present awareness and understanding of the emotions of others; the ability to sense and respond appropriately to the needs of others (Goleman).

Daniel Goleman references that ‘empathy’ is significant to this skill, and notes that, “Empathizing with someone – understanding their point of view – doesn’t mean you have to agree with their point of view. Empathy is really about acknowledging the emotions of others, being thoughtful and considerate of their feelings, and making decisions that take those feelings into consideration.”


Why does it matter?

Awareness-of-Others is at the core of Loving-Others. How can we love, honor, respect and be in a relationship if we fail to even see each other? When we do, the path opens up to compassion, collaboration, creative partnership, and significant interaction. There is no limit to what can happen when we do the work to develop this vital interpersonal skill.

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When this skill — Awareness-of-Others — is missing, we develop interactional ‘blind spots’. We fail to pick up on signals, resulting in missed opportunities of connection; we remain unresponsive to requests for help, we fall prey to misinterpretation, and we struggle to understand another’s perspective. We are unaware or confused by the effect we may be having on others. We’re getting in our own way and we don’t understand why. The result is difficulty or even failure in relationships – personally, professionally and in community.


What we do about it?

The good news is there is hope. While Awareness-of-Others may come more naturally for some, research has indicated that it is a skill and mindset that, with intentionality and commitment, can be learned or improved. As a result, we’ll see improvement in our relationships and greater effectiveness in our interactions.

The two main components to Awareness-of-Others are Observation and Listening. Below are some practical strategies that will help activate the parts of our brain that are tied to social awareness. Bradberry, in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, emphasizes that the first step is to become present and able to give others our full attention. What might it look like for me to commit to practicing these for the next 30 days?

  • S-L-O-W D-O-W-N: Becoming more aware of others will not happen if we are in a hurry. Be patient with the process, and practice every day.
  • Observe Body Language and Become Curious: Take time to intentionally notice people’s eyes, smile, gestures, and energy level. What might they be feeling? Are they relaxed? Stressed? Happy? Concerned? Confused? What have I been missing?
  • Clear Away the Clutter: “To be socially aware, we must be socially present and remove distractions – especially the ones inside our head.” Cancel the internal chats and tune in to the conversation happening right now. When I am thinking about my response while the other person is still talking, I’m not present, and I’m not aware.
  • Don’t Interrupt: Actually, let people finish what they are saying… and then acknowledge what they have said… before jumping in to finish it for them, or say it better, or compare your experience, or offer your opinion, or…
  • Live in the Moment: Make it a habit to practice Presence. Planning the future and reflecting on the past are valuable at the right time, but they can be at the cost of engaging the person in front of you.
  • Go People Watching: Go to a mall or public place and purpose to sit for 20-30 minutes just to notice people. Be curious. Where might they be coming from? What is on their mind? Are they in a hurry? Why? Are they alone? Try this once a week for 30 days and see what changes you notice.
  • Test for Accuracy: When I make an observation, interpretation, or conclusion about someone, I need to be careful about assuming my accuracy. Ask!
  • Step into Their Shoes: Like an actor taking on the role of a character, try truly stepping into the place of someone else. Try on their perspective, their concerns, their understandings. Allow yourself to feel what it would be like to be in that person’s place. Then test for accuracy (above).
  • Seek the Whole Picture: I can humbly acknowledge that my perspective isn’t the whole story. Seek feedback from family, friends, co-workers, and leaders to fill in the gaps.
  • Get a Coach: Coaching in Emotional Intelligence or Strengths ® can provide a jump-start toward developing this essential skill and learning how other people think, feel, are motivated, and see life differently than you do. Contact Cindy Schmelzenbach for information on getting a coach.
  • Practice Listening: Review the Four Levels of Listening and consider what it might be like to practice listening at a deeper level than ever before.
  • Level I – Internal Listening. This is where 90% of listening happens. In this level, I am aware of myself. I am the main character. I listen through the filter of, “What does this mean to me?” or “How can I add to what I am hearing?” My thoughts, my feelings, my opinions, my reactions, my At this level, I am mostly gathering information to meet my needs, or I am thinking about how my story compares, or I’m formulating how I will respond to what I’m hearing.
  • Level II – Focused Listening. At this level, you– the one I am listening to – are the main character. I am fully aware of you. I am listening to your words, your expressions, your emotions. I notice your energy and I’m curious to know more… about you. I want to understand exactly what you are saying so I reflect back to you what I hear and check for accuracy and understanding. I invite you to give further explanation. I don’t judge or argue or react. I am immersed in what you are saying. I am focused on you.
  • Level III – Big Picture Listening. This is advanced listening. At this level, I’m listening to more than what you are actually saying… I’m hearing your body language, I’m paying attention to your expressions, I’m aware of what you are not saying, I’m making a place for you to explore what you may be thinking or feeling; I’m allowing silence. I am completely committed to your safety.
  • Level IV – Listening to the Spirit. At this level, we are aware that God is a part of our conversation and we are intentionally making space for him there. We are listening to what he may be bringing to the conversation and we are sensitive to the solutions or ideas he may be inviting us to. There is complete safety as we explore together what God may be revealing or sharing with us. Creative solutions are discovered here. This is where visions are caught and we are inspired.


Bradberry, Travis. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. San Diego: Talent Smart

TalentSmart newsletter on Emotional Intelligence and Employee Engagement:

Contributor: Cindy Schmelzenbach