There was a dog that stumbled into what seemed like an abandoned house. It barked, but there was no answer. The dog went up the stairs and saw dozens of dogs sticking out their paws just like him. “What a nice place!” thought the little dog. “I’ll come back whenever I can!”
Later another dog arrived. That dog was awash with fear. It went into the dark abandoned house in the rain. He went upstairs to see if it was warmer. There he growled, and he saw a dozen growling dogs ready to pounce. He scurried away terrified. He would never go back.
On the building, a sign read “House of Mirrors.”
What we see in others is a reflection of ourselves. We get what we give. When we relate to others with kindness, we get kindness. But when we are aggressive, we get aggression in response. We must be self-aware so that we can understand how we relate to ourselves and others.
Are you self-aware?
Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, how you got that way, and how your presence affects others? I’ve known some people who bragged about their self-awareness, which is like boasting about your humility. They were telling themselves that they were good people, instead of being watchful about how they impacted others. It requires ongoing work to develop self-awareness.
Research shows that if we see ourselves clearly, we are more creative and more confident. We are better at decisions and communications. We’re less likely to engage in misconduct. We get more promotions. And we’re more productive leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies. The odds are that you aren’t self-aware, and neither am I. Researchers believe only about 10%-15% of workers fit the criteria. If you’d like to examine your level of self-awareness, you can take a test here.
Signs You May Lack Self-Awareness
- You get defensive
Does any kind of feedback make you irritated? Is all advice unexpected, harsh, or unwarranted? When a coworker gives criticism, do your negative emotions spiral out of control? If you responded yes then, you should examine what leads you to that emotion. Then once you’re done, do it again.
How to Become More Self-Aware about Defensiveness
Feedback is meant to help you develop. Nobody is perfect. If the person giving you the advice thought you were incapable of following it, they wouldn’t give it to you. It can be hard to hear about how you missed the mark. While it’s natural to feel anxious by criticism, you must recognize how you can improve. Next time you get feedback at work, then use it as a self-awareness exercise. If you no longer get feedback, then you have a long ways to go.
As it turns out, “why” is a futile self-awareness question. Studies show that we do not have access to many of the feelings, motives, and unconscious thoughts that we’re seeking. Because so much is confined outside of our understanding, we manage to invent explanations that appear genuine but are often incorrect. For example, following an uncharacteristic eruption at an assistant, a new manager may skip to the conclusion that it means she isn’t cut out for management when the actual reason was low blood sugar.
Consequently, the difficulty with answering our own “why” questions is the unjustified confidence that we’re right. The human brain seldom acts rationally. Our judgments are rarely free of prejudice. We dive into whatever “insights” we find without examining their validity. We overlook conflicting evidence, and we take our ideas to adapt to our original explanations.
So if why isn’t the right reflective question, what is? “What” questions help us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights. For example, if you hate your job, you could get stuck thinking, “Why do I feel so terrible?” That will probably lead him to think about his insecurities. Instead of that question, you should ask, “What are the situations that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?” When you receive negative feedback, don’t ask “Why did you say this about me?” Instead, ask, “What are the steps I need to take in the future to do a better job?” That will help you find solutions instead of centering on the unproductive patterns of answering “why.”
2. You micromanage
Virtually anyone who micromanages genuinely believes that they must do it. There is probably a lot expected from that project. You may be a perfectionist. Maybe you think that your co-worker needs added pressure to complete a task. Those are all valid reasons. But you know what’s missing? Knowledge of how your passion to take charge influences your counterpart. Micromanaging demoralizes others. It indicates that you don’t trust your coworkers. It also gives you the license to make assumptions, thereby avoiding communication.
How to Become More Self-Aware about Micromanaging
Go trust others. You don’t exist alone. Other people on your team have the same goal. Learning to delegate and acknowledge different people can do the job, too, shows maturity and development.
3. You know the answer before they’ve finished the question
When someone is speaking, are you just waiting for him to finish so you can respond? Can you get out of your way and pay attention to what the other person is saying?
How to Be More Self-Aware about Listening
Listening is key to communicating. It’s simple, but not easy. Self-awareness is the ability to listen to instead of listening for. Take into account what everyone is saying and everything they’re saying.
4. Nothing is ever your fault
How often do you find yourself saying “Yes, but it’s not my fault because [insert context here]?” It’s normal to want to tell a reason behind a situation. If you typically react to feedback with “yes, but…”, you’re likely seeking to divert adverse attention. That’s expected. But know that other people see you as an individual who avoids accountability and is dismissive of others’ opinions. So they are likely to be dismissive of your opinions too.
How to Become More Self-Aware about Feedback
Noticing how coworkers respond to your emotions is a vital skill for the workplace. You must observe your colleague’s responses to your emotions. Take responsibility for your mistake. Don’t point out the similar flaws that you see in others. This is about you only. Deflection will make people believe you are dismissing them. Coworkers appreciate it when someone accepts the error and apologizes. They will quickly forget the mistake. If you dig in and refuse to acknowledge an error, then people don’t want to work with you.
5. You can’t laugh at yourself
Nobody likes dealing with shame, and I certainly don’t enjoy embarrassment. So it’s expected that if you are in a situation where you feel bad, the last thing you want to do is smile. Perhaps you respond by lashing out and getting mad. What you’re doing there is diverting — rather than sitting with intense pain, you distract yourself.
How to Be More Self-Aware about Taking Yourself too Seriously.
Admit to yourself that you feel upset, ashamed, or embarrassed. When you do that, the laughter usually follows. Do you want to laugh at other people? Then start laughing at yourself.
6. You say things you don’t mean
Sometimes it would be best if people could read my mind. They would know why I am confused or disappointed or troubled. That would be so much easier than having to adult by expressing my feelings.
When things get hard, it’s easy and safe to say “no problem” when the narrator of our life would say, “it was, in fact, an enormous problem.” We each want to look competent at work. By avoiding confrontation, passive-aggressive behavior deflects feelings. Being vulnerable is intimidating, especially at work.
How to Become More Self-Aware about Mind Reading
We aren’t mind readers. It’s exhausting for you and your target when your communication is passive-aggressive. Take a breath before responding when someone suggests how you should do something. While it may be attractive to hold your issues inside, consider how you could fix your dilemma in a way that declares what you need without being hurtful. It is a precarious balance. You probably can’t tell them everything. But you should address the struggle. Plan out some talking points in advance so that you avoid being mean.
Conclusion: Self-awareness isn’t one truth. It’s a careful balance of two separate, also opposing, perspectives.
Self-awareness does not take an above-average intelligence. It requires introspection and attention. Accepting feedback, listening, and being authentic with yourself are essential to self-awareness. Self-awareness will ultimately make you a better friend, partner, and manager.
Leaders who concentrate on improving self-awareness, who seek candid feedback from admiring critics, and who ask what rather than why can see themselves more clearly — and realize the many rewards that improved self-knowledge gives. And no matter how much improvement we make, there’s always more to learn. That’s one of the things that makes the journey to self-awareness so exciting. There is no destination.