“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu was right, self-knowledge is truly liberating.
The wisest amongst have always known this truth. Socrates is famous for his aphorism – “Know Thyself”. Ancient historians tell us that it was inscribed atop the entrance of the famous Temple at Delphi.
Beyond the philosophical discussion, self-awareness is an essential meta-skill for the modern workplace. Without it, you run the risks of alienating co-workers, sabotaging leadership, and setting yourself up for burnout.
What is it?
Self-awareness as a psychological concept was first theorized in 1972 by Duval and Wickland in their book A Theory of Objective Self-Awareness.
According to Duval & Wickland, self-awareness is “The ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you.”
You may be thinking, “I know myself. I know my hot buttons. My likes and dislikes.”
Unfortunately, study after study on self-awareness demonstrates that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10-15% truly are.
Being aware of your own emotions, desires, abilities, reactions, and goals puts you and your team on a path to success. It’s not only the key to a meaningful life but a meaningful work life.
Why is it important in the workplace?
Organizational psychologist and author of Insight, Tasha Eurich, says, “Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively”
Doesn’t that sound like the type of environment where you and your team would thrive?
At Fierce, we’ve found self-awareness drives growth in three major components of work-life – Leadership, Team Dynamics, & Resilience.
You can’t be an effective leader without self-awareness.
We can all think of leaders who aren’t self-aware. The TV hit show, “The Office”, parodied the leader without self-awareness. In each episode, Michael Scott launches into speeches causing eye-rolls among employees or moments of intense cringe.
How do you know you haven’t committed the same sins?
Self-awareness among leaders provides the base for a strong character. It allows you to lead with purpose, trust, and authenticity. You are able to see clearly the reason behind both successes and failures. You understand who you are and what you need most from other people.
More importantly, you begin to see gaps in your management skills, but also understand where you are most effective. You become fully aware of those around you and their motivations and needs.
Self-awareness among teams and employees is something everyone should strive for.
A self-aware team can handle conflict, embrace empathy, and make stronger decisions. In the Harvard Business Review study on self-awareness, they found that Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half.
The consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.
It is imperative that organizations do more to build this meta-skill to provide greater cohesion and collaboration among teams. One un-self-aware team member can poison the whole group creating a toxic culture that spirals downward quickly.
A self-aware team is confident in its strengths and weaknesses and works together to become greater than the sum of the parts. They understand the impact that emotions have on others. Delivering and receiving feedback becomes more effective because self-awareness allows openness to constructive criticism. Feedback is also another developmental tool for growing self-awareness.
There are other benefits as well. According to organizational psychologists, self-awareness:
- Leads to better decision making
- Builds empathy and enhances self-control
- Increases productivity and communication in the workplace
- Make us more proactive and encourage positive self-development
Self-awareness is the key to resilience. In a world full of stress, burnout, and resignations, building resilience is critical to survival as an organization.
The problem with resilience is we aren’t often aware of those triggers that raise our stress hormones. We don’t notice when we’ve entered that state where we can’t make good decisions and respond correctly to our colleagues.
Because each individual is unique and brings a completely different life experience, the same triggers for you may not be the same for someone else. We don’t often notice those small stressors that eventually cascade into severe anxiety, burnout, or depression.
Part of self-awareness is knowing what triggers you to feel stressed. Knowing your triggers means you can respond to them more calmly when they come up.
Tools for Self-Awareness
No one is born with self-awareness. It is a skill that needs to be learned, refined, and strengthened over time. Here are 3 tools Fierce has used to help organizations build self-awareness.
Learn how to give and receive feedback at work successfully. Feedback should be built into the culture of an organization to go both up and down the organizational chart. Not only do direct reports need regular feedback to build the necessary skills to reach goals, but managers need feedback from reports to build out their own leadership skills.
Even outside of the workplace, ask friends and families to provide feedback on how they perceive you. Make sure you create space for honest feedback with the intent of understanding yourself deeply so you are able to make changes and grow.
Mindfulness is important for all of us to remember that we are not our thoughts. Inside each of us is an observer who can easily become entangled with internal thoughts and external circumstances. Falling prey unconsciously to our own thoughts and outside events devolves us into victims who merely react to life rather than directing it.
Mindfulness can take many forms such as meditation, breathing exercises, or frequent journaling. Whatever method you choose, take time to calm down your mind and reflect on yourself and the world around you.
With the advent of wearable technology, each of us has the ability to understand our biological responses to our inner world. Tracking and monitoring our response to life can have a massive impact on our ability to build greater self-awareness.
At Fierce, we saw how powerful biometrics were at monitoring stress and developed our Pulse app to merge a person’s calendar data with biometrics to identify stressful events in their life. After testing the technology, we saw not only a decrease in stress but an improvement in self-awareness.
Recently one participant using Pulse noticed a particular meeting she attended regularly registered at the highest level of stress. This didn’t make any sense to her. This was a participation-only meeting. She rarely contributed. She never had to prepare or speak openly in the meeting. After reflecting on why it was creating great stress for her, she realized that apathy and boredom were massive stress triggers for her. This self-awareness led her to action. She contacted her boss and asked for her to be removed from the meeting or allowed a greater level of participation. They changed her role in the meeting, and she saw a decrease in biometric stress and an increase in workplace productivity.
Technology like Pulse can give us insight into our inner world and create greater self-awareness.
Self-awareness is a critical skill that is the foundation for all skill development. Without awareness of your lack of skills, weaknesses, strengths, and responses you can’t set a direction for growth. Without self-awareness, you are unable to track progress.
At the end of the day, we all want self-awareness. Remember, it is a journey and a life-long effort but will pay dividends for our own development and the productivity of the organizations we lead.