Applied EQ #32:  Introducing Social Awareness for PMs

Applied EQ #32: Introducing Social Awareness for PMs

The next area I want to explore with you is social awareness for project managers.  What exactly is social awareness?  Social Awareness is the ability to accurately read others and understand their emotions.  It includes the ability to walk in the shoes of another.

Social Awareness is one of the 5 building blocks of our project management framework for emotional intelligence as shown in the diagram below.  It includes the competencies of Empathy, Organizational Awareness, and Emotional Boundaries.  We will look at each of those competencies in future posts.


I believe that most project managers have at least some level of Social Awareness.  It is impossible to progress very far as a project manager without it.  Why is it important?  I think there are a couple of reasons.

First, project management is getting work done through others.  (By the way, I like that phrase so much that I would like to have it on a bronze plaque on my desk.)  If you cannot understand and relate to others, it will be difficult to get work done through them.

Second, all projects are temporary (or at least they are supposed to be).  As PMs, we don’t usually have the luxury of gradual and long term relationships with our teams.  Rather, we need to work with new teams and new stakeholders on a regular basis, maybe as often as every six or nine months.  Each new project has the potential for different faces and relationships and the urgency to develop relationships for positive project outcomes.  Our ability to quickly and accurately read and understand others is critical to our success.

Finally, projects are risky.  They are far from being a slam-dunk on success.  PMs need all the help they can get to succeed.

So how do project managers use Social Awareness?  Social Awareness comes into play whenever we are working with others; that is, all the time.  Here are some typical situations where Social Awareness is at work:

  1. Understanding the verbal and nonverbal communications of different people.
  2. Understanding the motivations of our team members so that we can align them with the objectives of the project.
  3. Improving your understanding of stakeholders and politics.
  4. Providing feedback and constructive criticism to team members.
  5. Recognizing and addressing hostility and other negative behaviors.
  6. Anticipating and avoiding conflict.
  7. Interpreting the unspoken communications at a meeting to understand what is really going on.

Social Awareness is one part of our own personal radar which provides us a rich source of information about our environment.  Several months back I referred to a 2004 book by David Caruso and Peter Salovey titled The Emotionally Intelligent Manager.  That book listed six principles of emotional intelligence including:  #1 Emotion is Information.  Now think about that for a moment.  Emotions provide us information about our environment.  Social Awareness is specific information about the people we are interacting with on our teams.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to leverage this radar.  Self-awareness is the precursor to Social Awareness.  We understand others through awareness of our own emotions.  Individuals who have a difficult time recognizing their own emotions will struggle to recognize emotions in others.

In the next series of posts, we are going to dive into the topic of Social Awareness and provide some tools and examples on how we can improve our skills in this area.

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