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Emotional awareness in communication is often misunderstood and seldom if ever discussed or taught.

Feelings play a big role in communication. Emotional awareness, or the ability to understand feelings, will help you succeed when communicating with other people. If you are emotionally aware, you will communicate better. You will notice the emotions of other people, and how the way they are feeling influences the way they communicate. You will also better understand what others are communicating to you and why. Sometimes, understanding how a person is communicating with you is more important than what is actually being said.

Have you ever tried to hide your feelings? It’s pretty hard for most of us to do. That’s because emotions don’t lie. Instead of trying to hide or ignore your feelings, focus on becoming aware of your feelings and the feelings of those around you in order to be a better communicator.

You can improve your emotional awareness by focusing on these five skills:

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1. Consider other people’s feelings. Have you ever finished a conversation with someone and found yourself wondering, “Why did she tell me that?” or, “I wonder why he talked to me like that?”

For example, a coworker might tell you something personal that doesn’t seem important for you to know. Or a supervisor might seem angry with you for no reason. Finding out why can tell you a lot about what a person is trying to tell you. To figure out why, think about what the other person is feeling. Consider any situations that may be affecting their emotions and how that might in turn affect what they say to you.

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2. Consider your own feelings. Just as other peoples’ feelings can affect the message they’re trying to send, your own feelings can get in the way of your communication as well. When you feel a strong emotion or feeling, pay attention to that emotion and try not to let it get in the way of your message. Both positive emotions, like happiness, and negative emotions, like anger, can get in the way of communication.

For example, if you’re really happy about something, you might agree to do things that you shouldn’t or wouldn’t normally agree to do. On the other hand, if you’re angry, you might say something mean to someone who has nothing to do with your being angry. When you have a good understanding of your own feelings, you will notice these emotions and try not to let them get in the way of your communication.

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3. Have empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of someone else. Once you’ve learned to recognize another person’s feelings, you can go one step further and actually relate to those feelings.

For example, if you notice that a coworker seems stressed, you should try to find out why. If she tells you she is stressed out because she doesn’t have a lot of time to finish a big project, you can empathize with her by putting yourself in her shoes. That means, you can imagine yourself in this situation and you can understand what that person must be feeling.

When you have empathy for a person, you can think about how you would want to be talked to or what you would like other people to say or do if you were in that situation. Going back to the example with your coworker, you could offer to help your coworker with the project or offer some words of encouragement.

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4. Operate on trust. Good communication requires you to build trust between yourself and the person with whom you’re communicating. You can earn the trust of others by sending nonverbal cues that match your words.

For example, shaking your head no while you’re saying yes will send a confusing message. The difference between your verbal and nonverbal communication could cause the other person to question whether or not you’re telling the truth. Make sure that you always tell the truth, and you can avoid these confusing situations.

It’s also important to trust your instincts when it comes to reading peoples’ emotions and nonverbal cues. If your instincts tell you that something is strange about the way a person is communicating to you, push yourself to look into it. If you don’t, you will find yourself questioning the person you’re talking to, and you could develop feelings of mistrust for no reason.

5. Recognize misunderstandings. A misunderstanding happens when two people think they are on the same page about something, but in reality they are thinking two different things. Misunderstandings happen all the time, but emotional awareness can help you to avoid misunderstandings. Misunderstandings are often caused by confusing emotions.

For example, if your coworker is upset about something, they might talk to you as if they are angry with you, even if they are not. It’s tempting to walk away from this type of conversation feeling like your coworker is mad at you, but this would just result in a misunderstanding. Instead, recognize that your coworker is upset about something else and probably didn’t mean to take their anger out on you.

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