Photo by Anna Demianenko on Unsplash
A skill of growing importance in today’s workplace is self-awareness. Defined as “the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals” (Wikipedia) it’s your ability to know how you are being perceived by others in a given moment in time and what lead to that perception. When we speak of our own self-awareness it is usually in the context of whether we are self-aware. Listen carefully to yourself as you express this (or as others do); many people put this forward as a question (intentionally or unintentionally). For example they may say “I’m pretty self-aware” but their voice may go up at the end of the sentence, intoning it as more of a question. Or they may say “I think I’m self-aware”, again with the infection at the end signifying they are not sure, or they are leaving it up to the listener to decide.
Beyond the dictionary definition of self-awareness is the more practical application of it. Anyone can be self-aware in a moment (excruciatingly so, especially if you have just spilled coffee down the front of your white dress shirt), we may even be able to remain self-aware consistently in a particular context, like in a performance review meeting where we are expecting to receive constructive feedback. However, consistent and resilient self-awareness that is present every day can be elusive and requires a great deal of practice (mindfulness is a great way to do this). Anyone who is self-aware would likely not call themselves that because self-awareness is like peeling an onion, there is always another layer underneath and getting there usually requires a great deal of introspection and emotional discomfort. Like peeling an onion, sometimes self-awareness brings tears as we see ourselves in objective and meaningful ways (warts and all).
It’s worth the journey because self-awareness has many gifts to offer, including self-confidence, self-acceptance, emotional well-being and the ability to pursue bigger life goals that scare you (self-actualization). There is a distinction between self-awareness and self-consciousness. Self-consciousness means we are experiencing attention from others that is unwelcome, either because we don’t like being the focus of attention, or because it is for something we’d rather it wasn’t (like a big coffee stain on our shirt). Self-consciousness and self-awareness are often confused, but with self-awareness you are accessing something useful (even when it is uncomfortable), something that can inform you, give you more options (during an interpersonal exchange with others as an example) and supports your growth and development. Ultimately there are some things about ourselves we are more willing to see then others (which is a very human way of being) and it requires us to examine feedback or exchanges where we are confused (even hurt), to see if there is something there we should be working with, using our own good and compassionate sense about ourselves to identify a constructive learning opportunity from judgement (our own and others). Self-awareness is about being open to seeing something about yourself that may contradict how you see yourself today. That is why it is so valuable, it’s about your level of openness.
Want the ultimate test to see if you are open to seeing something about yourself you may not expect? Do a personality assessment (here is a reliable assessment that is informative and free https://www.16personalities.com/). As you go through your results, see how open you are to the information that may not match how you see yourself…then sit with that uncomfortable feeling for a bit (quietly, introspectively) to determine what it was about that information that bothered you so much. If you can stay with it, discovering something new about yourself, you are building self-awareness.