How to boost your workplace self-awareness

You might think you know yourself and how you are perceived. But do you?
How to boost your workplace self-awareness

In July this year Robert Pasick, a psychologist and executive coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan, went on holiday with his family to the northern part of the state. Suffering from nerve damage in his leg, he haphazardly attempted to step onto a pontoon boat by himself, even though his adult sons tried to assist. “Since I was struggling with a strong sense of male pride, I wasn’t aware that I was resisting their help,” said Pasick. “So instead of taking their hands, I lunged for the boat and stumbled. Luckily, they grabbed me before I fell in the water.”

Pasick wasn’t aware of his actions and how they impacted not only his wellbeing, but also his frustrated sons, who truly wanted to help. Pasick is not alone: Many professionals, including finance managers and leaders, lack self-awareness, and this oversight can have negative consequences.

“You have to be aware of who you are and how you come across to other people,” said Pasick, also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Michigan and author of Self-Aware: A Guide for Success in Work and Life. If you don’t, he noted, you will create self-destructive relationships, will make impulsive decisions, and may fail to take responsibility for your actions.

Also, “Productivity will be affected because you won’t be able to communicate properly what you are trying to say,” said Karen Oldham-Waring, director of Sunflower Training & Consultancy, in Bodmin, Cornwall, in the UK. And, perhaps most importantly, added Anne-Marie Archard, director of the London Leadership Academy, if you aren’t aware of how others perceive you, you “may continue to make the same mistakes in dealing with staff”.

Enter the world of self-awareness — or the lack thereof.

Simply put, “being self-aware” is the act of knowing who you are, what makes you tick, and how you come across to others. And once you are self-aware, you can adjust your behaviours accordingly to maximise your effectiveness as a manager and leader. You’ll have an easier time motivating your team because you’ll be conscious of what works and what doesn’t when interacting with them. And you’ll likely “be respected by colleagues and peers and be known for your empathy and integrity”, Archard said.

So how do you develop more self-awareness and then translate that insight into success? Pasick, Oldham-Waring, and Archard offer the following tips:

Reflect before you react. Emotions can run high in numerous settings, including at the office. Take time to analyse your feelings. When your emotions rise in certain situations, determine what triggered these sentiments and be mindful. Keep a journal to capture your experiences on paper, and then review periodically to monitor any changes. “If you feel you are getting emotional about something, take time out,” Archard advised. “Either step outside for a few moments, or take deep breaths, and just notice what you are feeling in a detached way.”

Observe others and experiment. We can learn plenty by watching other people commingle. So first, think about how you often respond and the reactions you receive. Are they positive or negative? Do your actions help motivate your staff or deter them? Do your words wow shareholders or make them sleepy? Then, study the interactions between other people to determine which behaviours and words seem to work best. “Perhaps modify different phrases, body language, responses, and see what reactions follow,” Oldham-Waring noted. “By watching how others interrelate, you can then try things out for yourself.”

Solicit feedback. “Be open to input from others, especially those who are close to you, regarding your conduct. When they offer tips, don’t become defensive, but instead determine what you can learn from their opinions,” Pasick said. In addition, seek feedback directly from colleagues as to how you perform in meetings or how you interact with others. Ask, “What do I do well? What can I do better?”, Archard suggested.

Be a thoughtful listener. Part of being self-aware is gauging your reactions to others. So don’t just nod and gesture as if you’re truly listening. Instead, be attentive when someone else speaks; then pause and offer a thoughtful response. “The person needs to be heard, but by being self-aware we can stop ourselves from shooting from the hip,” Oldham-Waring said. “Take a breath; then respond in a measured way.”

Set behavioural goals. Take an honest look at yourself and your actions and establish some goals accordingly. Perhaps you want to be more helpful to others, ask good questions, or be a better communicator. At the end of the day, evaluate how well you did in achieving these goals. “Look at your life as an experiment, where you’re trying to work on self-improvement, and collect data as to how you are doing,” Pasick said. “Self-awareness is the process of learning about yourself — and we can all do that.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at