In Part 1 we examined the nature of Emotional Intelligence and looked is some detail at Self-Awareness, a foundational element if developing one’s Emotional Intelligence. We observed that this was the foundation upon which our awareness of others was built.  In this topic we now examine awareness of others in more detail.

Developing Social Awareness

In the model of Emotional Intelligence that we are using Social Awareness is about our awareness of others. We might describe it as our looking outwards from ourselves and understanding “what makes the other person tick”.

As we have seen, self-awareness, “understanding what makes us tick”, gives us lots of insight into others.  Not that the same specifics apply to them as they apply to us, but the general mechanisms and classes of issues will apply. So for instance others are as susceptible to Emotional Hijacking as we are and the Ladder of Inference is an equally good model of what goes on for them as it is for us. They have a Lifeline too which has been formative and they respond to the same situations as do we.

All of this gives us a platform upon which we can build our appreciation of what is going on with others and that means we can modify our behaviour to respond to them appropriately.

A key to awareness of others is empathy, which, as we shall see, is about having a deep insight into the other person’s situation, emotions and reactions.

People don’t exist in isolation, therefore understanding the organisational issues and pressures that apply in their situation is also important. For instance, in the Reflections on Leadership module we looked at organisational culture and how it might affect the people in an organisation.

Equipped with both awareness of others and self we have the basic perspectives that will enable us to develop our relationships with those with whom we live and work. The essential tools available to us are classified in the model as self-management and relationship management. As Christ-centred leaders seeking to live out Christ’s servant ethic, this focus on others and their well-being and benefit is crucial.

  • Take a Moment: Find a Dictionary and compare the definitions of:
    • Empathy
    • Sympathy
    • Pity
    • What do you learn about them?
    • What are the differences?


The first and most important aspect of our awareness of others is empathy.

Empathy is about our having an emotional understanding of what is going on with another person. It’s about being able to “stand in another’s shoes” and sense their feelings. It’s not a rational or intellectual exercise but an emotional connection with the other person.

Note the difference between empathy and pity and sympathy.  Pity and sympathy are both emotional responses to another but they are our emotions and they require little emotional insight into the other’s situation.  We can have pity or be sympathetic because we have witnessed suffering and misfortune, they require no emotional connection. To be sympathetic does not require that we understand and share the emotions of the other person.

There is also the phenomenon of Emotional Contagion. This is about mimicking the emotion of others. In some settings it might be called “mass hysteria” where the emotional responses of people build up and align. But this is not empathy; this is adopting the emotions of others and making them our own.

Empathy is a sort of emotional resonance with another.

Empathy is something that people come equipped to develop. It begins very young,;as infants we learn about emotion and respond to the emotion of others: parents, siblings and friends. It’s affected by how a child sees parents deal with emotion and how they responded to others; were they are empathetic towards others?

Our empathy is clearly influenced by God, if we are Christians. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit we are given a new heart and then Jesus Christ and the Father live within. If they live within then we have been endowed with God’s heart of agape – love, which is concerned for others. John in his first epistle has much to say about this growth in, and outworking of, agape-love.  We saw in the module Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom that agape-love is core to Christ’s servant character and therefore to the character of Christ-centred servant leaders.

The Goal

From Goleman’s perspective empathy is the key to being emotionally intelligent. Self-awareness is good but it is about equipping one to have empathy.  Empathy is important because it provides the necessary insight to be able to be “others-focused”; understanding what is going on with them. Then, from that position, to be able to go on to serve others. Now, Goleman very much has a business perspective in mind, however, what he is doing is applying principles. As Christ-centred servant leaders, when we seek to meet the needs of others it has that dimension of pastoral care. This is heart driven care, not simply meeting the demands of a consumer. The two may often be mutually exclusive. It’s the conflict of what we want versus what we need or what is best for us.

As Christ-centred servant leaders we are concerned to see those we lead grow and achieve their full potential. Empathy is an important element guiding us in this endeavour. In the church context we would see this as discipleship and even in an organisational context, as we shall see later in the course, we musts also be concerned for the spiritual development of those that we lead.

Other Dimensions

As an aid to developing empathy with people, Goleman highlights the importance of two factors: awareness of cultural diversity and political awareness – sometimes referred to as organisational awareness. These two factors affect the people with whom we seek to empathise.  One’s cultural background will shape, in part at least, emotional responses to situations. Thus two people of two different cultures may respond differently to a specific situation. Insight into cultural differences will thus give us clues as to the emotional responses we observe and inform our ability to have empathy with another. A simple, perhaps over trivial example may be food stuffs. People from one culture may be horrified to be faced with a particular food while those from another culture will relish it.

Similarly, the culture and currents that exist within an organisation affect emotional responses. Sensitivity to these currents will give clues as to the emotional response of others. In the most general sense these may be described as political awareness, with no negative connotation implied. Organisational awareness is perhaps a better term.  These background currents exist in every organised situation, including churches.  An example might be a senior management project review which has the implied consequence of change to the way the project is run and possibly even censure of a well-liked leader or the team as a whole. That will emotionally affect the project team, which in turn will affect how they respond to other situations or incidents.

Developing Empathy

So the question arises, how do we develop empathy. There are some skills and practices we can adopt.


The ideal technique for developing empathy may be telepathy, the ability to read someone’s’ mind.  In the absence of this ability questions are a crucial tool.

The first thing is to develop the skill of asking open questions, i.e. questions that require a response which imparts some information and is more than “yes” or “no”, or an equivalent phrase.  But one must not simply be satisfied with the response to the first question, it is necessary to gain more insight to develop empathy. Thus probing questions are required, but of course this must come up short of an interrogation.  These follow-up questions may be helpful:

  • Can you say more about that?

  • Can you be more specific?

  • I wasn’t aware of that, tell me more.

  • I’m curious about that…can we discuss it in more depth?

  • What are some of your concerns?

  • Let me see if I understand you correctly…..this is what I think you’re saying….

  • How do you feel about that?


Questions alone are insufficient because we need to work at developing our skills at building empathy in general, and we need to work at developing empathy with specific individuals. The following provides some suggested practices that may help:

  • Keep a log or a journal
    Simply make notes, keep them and refer back from time to time.

  •  Become aware when underlying concerns are not adequately expressed
    Think about what people tell you and try to discern if you are getting insight on the real issues.

  • Make a note of possible feelings or emotions that the other person may be experiencing
    Reflect upon what you hear and observe and deliberately identify how you think the other person is feeling.

  • Develop a list of open ended questions to ask next time you meet that person
    Following the previous step, what questions will help you confirm what you think they are feeling?

  • Practice listening without interrupting
    Especially if you have tendency to speak a lot, train yourself to listen and not interrupt. Wait until the other person has completed their point of view before offering yours.

    Even if you don’t speak a lot, remember that sometimes you have to allow the silence so the other person can gather their thoughts or pluck up courage to say something. Silence can often be the most eloquent question of all and sometimes avoids the need to phrase a question.

  • Avoid being defensive
    Especially if what the other person has to tell you is negative and you feel the implication that somehow you are at fault.  Some people have the ability to make it seem like your fault, even when you have nothing to do with their situation at all.

  • Allow time for people to express opinions and ideas
    If you are under time pressure or have your own agenda, there may be a tendency to rush on to the next item. Sometimes that may be appropriate, but if you are trying to gain insight you will need to let the other person have time to say what they need to say.

  • Practice active listening
    When we get to the communications module we’ll think about the unused processing capacity that you have when listening to someone. Use it productively to get to grips with what you are hearing. Paraphrase what you are hearing. When it’s your turn to speak play it back to the speaker. It will also confirm to them that you are taking them seriously and enable them to correct you if you got it wrong.

  • Always bring the focus back to the conversation
    It’s very easy to have a conversation drift off topic, especially if one of you is struggling with its emotional aspects. Keep an eye on the conversation and gently bring it back on topic.

  •  Take a Moment: Think about 5 or 6 different relationships that you share.Think of a range of levels of relationship e.g. your spouse, your child, your boss, a new acquaintance, an old friend, a colleague.
    • How well do you empathise with them?
      • Identify specific instances
      • What were they and how did your empathy show itself?
    • What could you do to improve your empathy?