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I will never forget the moment I learned the simple lesson that would save me from myself and unleash a skill that I consider my most precious tool today. It was an innocent moment. My developer walked into the office and had just reached his desk when I immediately jumped in: "Hi Shawn. Do you have an update on the project and when we'll get those last defects resolved?" His response was, without missing a beat, "Hi Jesse! I've got coffee, thank you, the commute was a little slow but not the usual crazy traffic. How is your morning going?" BOOM! I stopped in my tracks; he had completely caught me off guard.

What had I just done? I had come at him like a ton of bricks. I hadn't taken a moment to check in and be human for a second. It was such a jerky move, but I'm glad it happened.

Ever since then, I intentionally pause and survey the person I'm speaking with. How's their body language? What's their mood? Gosh, I wonder how their family is? I check in with them and find a time to be human for a moment and connect. A simple moment of reading the person you are engaging with can change the direction of many conversations to be more productive, which can improve your personal and professional relationships. This is social awareness: the ability to pick up on the emotions of others and understand what is really going on with them. 

What is emotional intelligence?

I eventually learned that social awareness is one part of this thing called "emotional intelligence." The book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Jean Greaves and Travis Bradberry had a great way of explaining what this means:

But let's be honest: you can't just focus on social awareness – that alone won't help you through your daily interactions with others because, well, it all starts with the person you look at in the mirror every morning. Yeah, you know who I'm talking about: you need to spend some time with yourself. It is critical to better understand what makes you tick, your triggers and your ability to be present to have good self-awareness. Self-awareness means understanding your emotions and how they affect your performance.

Learning to explore social and self-awareness

Social and self-awareness are like a pair of scissors: you'll only be half as successful with one blade sharpened. The key thing to remember about social and self-awareness and emotional intelligence is that these are tools we need to be successful in both business and personal goals. They are how we remind ourselves that we are each human with emotions and avoid reducing our relationships to transactions. I think we forget that a lot.

I was a theatre major and (still am) an artist, so fine-tuning my social awareness came naturally to me, but I struggled with my own self-awareness. I couldn't effectively communicate with the people around me because of my lack of confidence and not being in the moment. I couldn't speak up and say what I really thought. My anger started coming out in an unhealthy way, and not in a way I wanted my co-workers to see. I would get so mad at what I was being asked to do that I would burst into tears. My peers started to see me as "emotional" or "too sensitive" – not a label I wanted because I could not say what I was thinking.

I spent a lot of time developing better self-awareness, and by the way, that process never really stops. You can find a reasonable balance between not changing and going to the ends of the earth to get to a place that will allow you to have better relationships, conversations and presence. Improving your self-awareness doesn't require visiting the "scary places" in your mind or years of therapy. I hope the personal experiences I shared and a few good books that I have found helpful in our journey will help you start yours when you are ready. 

But let's circle back to the title of this article and why it matters to care about social and self awareness. Social and self-awareness can help you set yourself up for success in your business and personal life. It can help you determine how and when to have a conversation and it can help you remain calm in challenging situations. The list of benefits goes on.

You might be saying to yourself, "that's great, Jesse – but how do I get there?" Good question. There are many paths to learn more about where you stand or how to use different tools to improve. I've provided a few books and resources that resonated with me and might help you in your exploration. In the end, it can be as simple as remembering we are all humans with emotions, which means constant communication is needed. Don't get caught up in being "nice." Be real and never stop being curious.

Helpful books and tools

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Jean Greaves and Travis Bradberry

Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent & Feeling Guilty by Aziz Gazipura

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it – by Chris Voss, Tahl Raz

A workshop that changed my life: Conscious Leadership