By Jacob Espinoza

I was stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. My truck’s rim bent out of shape. It was cold outside. It was raining. I didn’t have a jacket. I should have paid attention.

The dash on my Tundra even has a little light to alert me when there’s a problem.

But because I didn’t pay attention to the warning signs, I was outside, getting rained on, and forced to change a tire.

Paying attention to warning signs is essential and an easy way to avoid costly mistakes (replacing the tire of my truck wasn’t cheap). As leaders, there are significant consequences when we fail to notice the warning signs shared by our teams.

This failure to recognize the “Check Engine Lights” on your team can lead to a lack of productivity, attendance issues, and people leaving. Take the time to be aware of and respond to the needs of your team so you can avoid these unnecessary expenses.

It’s called social awareness.

Emotional intelligence teaches us that we must first be aware of and manage our own emotions before we can accurately recognize and respond to the needs of the people around us.

Here are a few tips that will help you become more socially aware.

Be an Engaged Listener

To become a better listener, learn to ask better questions. Ask questions that help you dig deeper and gain a better understanding of the person’s perspective of a problem. Hold back on being judgmental or trying to solve the problem immediately. Just be curious and focus your energy on genuinely wanting to know more.

At the end of the conversation, ask if there is something you can do to help. In many cases, you’ll discover they just needed someone to talk to.

By asking questions to understand where people are coming from, we avoid falling into the trap of trying to solve the wrong problem. For example, I once had a person on my team start showing up for work ten minutes late every day. He kept telling me it was car problems. 

Because I took the time to sit down and talk with him, I learned that the real problem was that his childcare changed their opening time. He was working on finding an alternative option, but ten minutes late was as early as he was able to arrive in the meantime. He said he was fired from a previous job for a similar situation and wasn’t sure how to approach it. Once we discovered the crux of the issue, we were able to find an easy solution that worked for everyone.

Ask Don’t Tell

You know that you’ll get further when you state your observations in the form of a question, right? (See what I did there?)

Here is a better example of what I mean.

If you have a supervisor who is starting to negatively impact the culture by spending the majority of their day barking orders, it is crucial that you get them this feedback and ensure they understand immediate change is necessary. But don’t start there.

You must be the example. Start by stating the observations you’ve made and asking if everything is okay. Even though it is incredibly frustrating to know your employees are being treated poorly, you can only have an impact on the supervisor if you first take time to understand where they are coming from and why they are taking this approach to lead their team.

Social awareness is all about seeing the issues and taking the time to ensure you’re fixing the right problems. When you address the warning signs early on, your team won’t break down.


Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach based in Salem, Oregon. He believes that everyone has the potential to be a better boss, and that good bosses want to be better. With industry certifications and over two decades of leadership experience, Jacob helps bosses create teams that are inspired by identifying goals and obstacles and creating a plan of action. For more information about speaking engagements and coaching services, visit


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