Building on the foundation of self-awareness, other-awareness involves the skills of observing, recognising, and understanding the basic wants, expectations, perceptions, and feelings that other people have.

Instructive techniques focus on: (i) defining key concepts such as empathy vs sympathy; (ii) explaining how to listen to verbal statements and look out for behavioural and situational cues, (iii) describing and demonstrating strategies for intuiting when observable signs are not available (e.g. using prior knowledge, self-reflection, and imagination) (Bedell & Lennox, 1997; p86-87), and (iv) detecting negative automatic thoughts and assumptions about others that may be unjustified, and how to use objective evidence to challenge these.

Instruction could also be applied less formally by discussing dramatic vignettes portraying the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of different actors viewed from varying perspectives (e.g. videos, movies or TV programs).

Supervised practice in group settings could take the form of exercises and games to help participants identify different types of wants, expectations and feelings in the expressions of others and learn to match verbal statements with these. Exercises can be used to practice breaking down broad reactions into descriptions of specific behaviours.

Group settings provide continual real-time feedback relevant to developing other-awareness. The role of the practitioner is to facilitate helpful interpretation of feedback from others such as peers, and to provide additional structured feedback carefully calibrated to the client’s progress in skill development.

Moving on to practice in the real world, the young person could identify one or more people he will interact with in the coming week, perhaps people he anticipates difficulties with, and report back upon the wants, expectations and feelings that these persons may have experienced (whether expressed or not) in relation to these interactions.

It is vital to consider the developmental history of the young person when teaching other-awareness skills. For young people who have been exposed to harsh parenting, inconsistent parenting, neglect or abuse, pre-existing beliefs about the wants, expectations and feelings of others need to be acknowledged and considered in the context of their previous experience before moving on to challenge their ongoing relevance into the future.

Be aware that psychoactive substances have profound effects upon perceptual processes like other- awareness. They can exacerbate cognitive distortions and contribute to symptoms such as paranoia.

Unless otherwise stated these notes are based on Bedell & Lennox (1997; Chapter 3).

Social anxiety

  • For clients  with social anxiety  the challenge is not only to develop skills in other-awareness, but to use these skills to correct distortions or unhelpful biases in other-awareness.
  • The same  types  of skill building techniques are used  but there  may be more emphasis on using  these skills to acquire a more  objectively accurate perception of others, and to use this evidence to challenge subjective perceptions that are unfounded.
  • Young people may have maladaptive assumptions about  the standards expected by others in the environment, and the probability and consequences of negative evaluation.
  • For young people who  have come  from  insecure family backgrounds, these assumptions may be based on real experiences of harsh parenting or unreasonable expectations. Alternatively, inconsistent parenting can make  it difficult to learn how to make accurate assessments of what others expect, or what the consequences of failing to meet expectations will be.
  • The basic skills of other-awareness provide a sound framework in which to explore automatic thoughts and assumptions that may lead to inaccurate, and especially overly  negative perceptions of others.
  • For clients  who  allocate excessive  attention to their self image and their own subjective states at the expense of observing others  and interactions, working through the other  awareness skills can help correct this attentional imbalance.
  • Objective feedback from others  is particularly important. Objective external feedback that is less negative than  expected reduces anxiety  (Rapee  & Heimberg, 1997; p747), and may encourage young people to challenge their own  unhelpful assumptions in the future.
  • Practice elements from cognitive re-structuring may be needed in addition to basic other-awareness skills