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Interpersonal Awareness

Interpersonal Awareness

•Goal: Interpersonal awareness is fundamental to effective communication and relationship building. The basis of interpersonal awareness is empathy, the ability to recognize the emotions and perspectives of others.  When others feel we understand them, they feel more heard and connected, and are more likely to listen to what we have to say in return. 

•Technique: The key to interpersonal awareness and to developing empathy is to be present, pay attention, and really listen.  First, we need to be present, to let go of other thoughts we might be having and devote our attention to the person we are with.  Then, not only do we need to listen to what the other person is saying, we need to notice their body language as over half of all communication is expressed nonverbally, and we need to pay attention to what we are feeling.  What we are feeling is a clue to what the other person is feeling as we have mirror neurons in our brains that respond to others by activating similar parts of our brains.  Really listening means being aware of our tendencies to interrupt and add our own perspectives, and to not act on them.  Rather, just listen, and respond with continuing statements like “uh huh” and “I see” or open-ended questions like “can you tell me more about that?”.  As Stephen Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People “first seek to understand, then be understood (the 5th habit).
•Evidence: Paying attention to others in this way has been associated with increased empathy and ability to take the perspective of another (Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 2007; 33:501–516).
•Suggestions for use: There are innumerable opportunities to practice interpersonal awareness throughout the day. The key to doing this is to pause before interacting with someone to focus our attention, and then to really bring awareness to the other person.
•Barriers and how to overcome them: The biggest barriers to doing this often are getting busy and not pausing to focus attention and make the commitment to be aware of what others are saying and feeling.  When we are distracted or thinking about other things we may miss many of the cues others are giving us, and they often sense our inattention.  We can also too easily feel the need to tell our story, or to explain ourselves if we feel threatened.  In the latter situations, continuing to listen and remain neutral can often lead to others to better hear our perspective if they feel they have been heard first.