There are a couple of different schools of thought on what exactly self-awareness is. Some believe that it is the ability to look internally and to clearly and non-judgmentally see our behaviors, and then work on changing those things that could be having a negative impact.
Others believe that it is the ability to take in external clues about how we are coming across to others, understand how those behaviors could be impacting our, or our team’s success, and then working to improve where we can.
In reality, self-awareness involves both of these. Let me give you an example.
If you know me well, you know that one of the things that most fascinates me is the concept of “interpretations”. In fact, you’ve probably heard me say in the past that, “If there is even one alternative reason for what is happening, then your experience of it (how you’re interpreting it) isn’t necessarily THE truth, it’s simply YOUR truth. And you get to choose your truth.” I really love this perspective-shifting idea and I use it often with myself. It’s my “stop, look and listen” equivalent for managing auto-pilot reactions.
But not too long ago I was presented with a situation that challenged how I apply this, courtesy of my daughter.
She had come home from classes and was very upset about an occurrence with a friend where she felt that her friend had been thoughtless and had really let her down. As she was describing what had happened, my ever-present “interpretations” love affair was in full force. I immediately started asking questions to see if she could feel better about the situation by simply being aware of alternative interpretations. Normally, this ends in her deciding to think about it, and me feeling like I did a “good mom” thing and helped her get past the negativity.
This time though, my daughter had apparently decided enough was enough and turned to me with a firm and angry, “Just stop it mom!” Perplexed, I asked what I should stop. “Just that, mom. That thing you do where everyone else is right and I’m always wrong.” Whoa, imagine my surprise!
Enter the self-awareness opportunity. I could have told her I’m not doing that. That she’s always the most important thing to me. She would have said that she knows that, and the conversation would have been over; nothing learned.
But I could tell from her tone and body language that this was important to her. So instead I asked her to tell me what it feels like to her when I whip out the “interpretations game”. “Well mom,” she said, “It feels like you don’t have my back. Like you don’t really care and just want me to get over it and feel better.”
Wow, there was something to think about! And an opportunity to use this external feedback as a gift. But before I immediately vowed to change my ways for good, I needed to check in internally as well. Do I believe I am doing that? After about a week of letting this sit with me, I came to the conclusion that no, I am not intentionally doing that. I realized that my strong desire to protect my child was what was at the root of it, and that’s not a bad thing. So, that doesn’t need to change.
But what did need to change was how I was showing that. She needed acknowledging and validating, and I was unintentionally withholding that. I now know how to show up for her in a way that actually does help her, instead of a way that makes her feel uncared for and possibly even guilty for feeling bad. More than that, I am reinforcing that she and I have a safe relationship where she can share and work through things without fear. I went back to my daughter and thanked her sincerely for having the courage to share with me how she was experiencing those conversations, and let her know I'd do better in the future.
Now that is a personal example of how self-awareness can change the outcome and strengthen a relationship, and it’s easy to want to employ that with your family whom you care so much about.
But the opportunity exists in the workplace too. Asking for, listing to, not judging (just thanking) your employees, peers, clients and bosses for feedback can provide you with many little gifts that are opportunities to have a massive impact on performance and results! Not just your results, but theirs as well.
The next time you feel a disconnect or tension, ask! Something as simple as, “I’m sensing that this isn’t going quite how you’d have liked. Will you share with me what you thinking or how I could be approaching this differently?” Ask with the genuine curiosity to learn, and then just listen. Resist the urge to justify. Then thank them sincerely and go think about what you’d like to do with this new information.
With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for global Leadership and Development initiatives with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish Cody has coached senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives.
As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with entrepreneurs, senior leaders and their teams to uncover their real desires for their organization, and then to align those desires with their values to co-create a strategy for execution and accountability. The leaders Trish partners with are truly working their own best plan for success in achieving their desired “new state” and weathering the changes that success brings.
To learn more about how Trish can help you and your team with one-on-one coaching, team coaching or speaking at your event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.