Friday, November 23, 2007

How Social Awareness Work

Social awareness refers to the behavioral range that runs from instantly sensing the inner state of other people, to understanding their feelings and thoughts, to comprehending the meaning and significance of complicated social situations. This awareness includes:
Primal Empathy: To sense the non-verbal emotional signals of others and to feel what they are feeling.
Atunement: To attend and attune to others with a sustained receptivity that leads to rapport.
Empathetic Accuracy: To consciously and accurately understand another person's thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Mirror neurons function at a subliminal level, but we often need to add prior experience with the immediate challenge in order to consciously grasp and appropriately respond to the real intentions of the other person (such as in contract negotiations, or when confronting an assailant).
Social cognition: Knowing how the social world works (such as the appropriate behavior in restaurants and museums, the appropriate conversation for various social settings). Social cognition emerges out of the development of primal empathy, attunement, and empathetic accuracy.
To simply sense how other people feel, or to know what they think or intend, doesn't guarantee fruitful interactions. Social skills build on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions. The spectrum of social facility includes:
Synchrony: To interact smoothly with others at the non-verbal level. This includes the ability to automatically read and respond to nonverbal cues (such as knowing when to smile and frown, how to orient our body). While these skills develop effortlessly in many children, the awkward behavior of others reduces the quality of their social life.
Self-Presentation: To present ourselves effectively in social situations, so that others can easily understand how we feel and think about the issues at hand.
Influence: To help shape the outcome of social interactions in a manner that is acceptable to others. Most social issues require at least some negotiation, so it's very important to learn how to negotiate fairly and effectively.
Concern: To care about and appropriately act on the needs of others. The behavioral spectrum is broad—from simply holding a door open for a person laden with packages to contributing to charitable and cultural institutions. We're a highly interdependent social species, and so it's inappropriate for us to expect others but not ourselves to contribute to common needs.
The functional elements of social intelligence identified above constitute the heart of the book, but what's especially fascinating is how Goleman draws on recent brain research to ground these functions in neurobiology. These forms of awareness and behavior do have an underlying biological explanation. This means that we can move towards the educational enhancement of social intelligence, and to effective interventions when the system goes awry.

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