Self-awareness is defined as knowing oneself and being conscious of how others see us. These two abilities reinforce each other. Knowing ourselves means understanding our strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and aspirations. Knowing how others see us means tuning in to their perceptions of who we are and how our behaviour impacts them.

Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, describes self-awareness as “the meta-skill of the twenty-first century”. Her research, and the findings of many others, show there is a link between our level of happiness and how self-aware we are. By attending to ourselves and our impact on others, we are able to make better decisions, have stronger relationships and be more successful and creative.

How can we build our self-awareness?

Eurich’s work offers seven types of insight which help us develop self-awareness:

  • Insight into our values. Understanding what is important to us – the values that guide our decisions and perceptions of the world around us.
  • Insight about our passions. Knowing and following the things we love to do.
  • Insight into our aspirations. Figuring out our life goals – what we want to experience and achieve.
  • Insight about how we fit. Understanding which environments will make us happiest, engage us and enable us to thrive.
  • Insight into the patterns we hone. The consistent behaviours that make us who we are – how we typically think, feel and act, even in different situations.
  • Insight into our reactions. The emotional and physical responses we typically demonstrate, for example our ability to control our emotions under stress.
  • Insight into impact. Understanding how our behaviour affects others.

What can get in the way?

Conversations with the leaders I coach often reveal blind spots – things that are unknown to them but may be known to the people they lead or work with.

For some it is emotional blindness, a lack of awareness that gets in the way of their ability to name and express their own feelings. For others it is behaviour blindness, simply not seeing the impact of their behaviour on others. Working with a coach is an effective way of discovering your blind spots whilst championing your strengths.

Six practical steps towards self-awareness

In my experience, six simple steps can reduce blind spots and build self-awareness:

  1. Pause and ask yourself the question, “What do I feel about this situation?” Research shows that when we name our feelings, especially the less positive ones, we’re in a better position to recognise and release them, rather than allowing them to take hold and control our responses.
  2. Resist the urge to judge your thoughts and feelings. Simply notice them. This will allow you to make new and different observations about yourself.
  3. Reframe a situation. Take a look at the bigger picture. Step back and imagine you are looking through a wide-angle lens. From this perspective you might see an opportunity for growth emerge from what seemed to be a disaster!
  4. Check-in with yourself daily. One of my clients found this practice helped him stay on track as he developed his leadership. Each evening he asked himself, “What did I learn today and what is my intention for tomorrow?”
  5. Seek feedback to understand the impact of your behaviour on others. This is less easy than it sounds. Depending on who you ask, you might receive direct, aggressive feedback. Or you might be offered sugar-coated feedback. Some may shy away from giving you feedback at all. If you are fortunate, you will hear truthful feedback, given with care. Be clear about what you need from others, be intentional in who you ask, and be consistent in the questions you want them to answer.
  6. Take your time to interpret and deal with feedback. Ask yourself: “Can I relate to the feedback? What will I act upon?” Authentic leaders are open and genuine about their own performance. They will act upon relevant feedback in developing their self-awareness.

Building from a solid foundation

Developing self-awareness isn’t easy. It demands a readiness to really listen to ourselves. But we’re learning that it is a powerful way to strengthen our happiness, well-being and personal success, and deepen our personal and professional relationships. By starting with this cornerstone, we can build our leadership strengths on a solid foundation.

Thanks for reading!

Jane Adshead-Grant, MCC, FCIPD is an executive coach, facilitator and speaker.  With 30 years experience in the corporate and coaching environment, Jane focuses her time on supporting leaders and their teams develop their leadership and culture where everybody matters to generate value for all stakeholders.

Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash