A number of people expressed interest in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, after I discussed it in general in an earlier column. So I am exploring each of the four skills of EQ individually in separate columns.

To review, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions effectively. People who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other peoples’ feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. The four skills of EQ are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, and Social Management. The skill we’ll explore today is social awareness.

Social awareness involves recognizing emotions in others. It rests on the foundation of self-awareness, because by knowing our own feelings, we are able to gauge how other people are feeling, based on a variety of either readily observable or subtle clues. When we are adept at this skill, we can accurately identify other’s emotions as we interact with them as individuals or in a group setting. By sensing others’ feelings, we can guess how they might see the world, too.

We’re social animals and have developed an intricate communication system. Facial expressions and gestures influence our ability to understand what other people are feeling. It’s estimated that 80-90% of communication between people is non-verbal: body language, facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact, etc.

Each emotion conveys a complex message and can signal the relative importance of issues and values. In working through conflicts in our lives, paying close attention to emotional nuances in ourselves and others contributes important insights and helps us to develop attractive trade-offs to encourage win/win solutions. For example, you may have noticed that a colleague hates to write reports. You enjoy writing, but you hate making calls, while she seems to enjoy them, so there’s the possibility that you can create some way of swapping duties so you both enjoy work a bit more.

Empathy is also an important aspect of social awareness. Empathy is an awareness of another’s needs and the ability to see things as they look from another’s place. It is the ability to imagine ourselves in their place, to stand in another’s shoes and to share in their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. Empathy includes sensing what another might need from you, but remember, of course, that you can choose whether or not to meet that need.

Empathy is critical to successful interactions with others. It is a major factor in developing overall rapport, and is essential in developing trust and openness in a relationship. With empathy, there is a connection between us that is typified by cooperation and agreement. Empathy is essential for effective communication because it allows us to develop plans that consider the needs and concerns of all involved.

Each EQ skill is linked to the other skills. The ability to perceive emotions in others creates opportunities for us to self-regulate in a way that can enhance the effectiveness of how we deliver information. For example, self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness, used together, enable us to choose the time for sharing good or bad news based on the emotional state of the other person. Our level of emotional intelligence skills can either help or hinder what we want to get across, affecting how well our relationships work and how well we get along together.