This skill, whilst may not be an obvious choice to put on our personal development plan, it is the wild card of our development for all the others. For instance, because it improves our ability to lead ourselves or others.
If our self-awareness is low, we cannot to adapt our behavior in our interaction with others. Reducing our chances of career and personal success.
If we know ourselves well, we can take control of our personal development. Adapting our style and working to develop those areas that we would like to improve on, or that are necessary, to make progress.
Self-awareness is not like any other skill that you can learn and that’s it. It is a process of constant self-observation, understanding and adaptation.
People are complex. We have qualities that are evident to ourselves and others. Our subconscious, subtle and discreet, has a lot of influence on our lives and its impact is not easy to spot. Our subconscious affects everything about us: our identity, values, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, language, and behavior. Even if we cannot say that we know everything there is to know about ourselves, if we pay attention, we can see ourselves more objectively. Thus being less of a victim of our own nature.
Russian dolls, or Matryoshka dolls, could be a good simile to think of for this form of awareness. They are unique and, at the same time, have individually identifiable parts at different depths. The inner piece, is the hardest to get to.
First layer: Understanding how others perceive us.
This aspect of self-awareness has been part of our work culture for many years. The vast majority of us use feedback (which we will talk about at length another time), or perception of others, to adapt our behavior to get better results.
The more feedback we receive, the more likely it is that the image we have of ourselves will come close to what others think. For this to happen, we need to be willing to listen. However difficult it may be sometimes for us to accept what we hear. In my experience, the more we resist a particular message or criticism, the more likely it is that is some truth in it that we need to work on. Also, it is in the things that annoy us about others where we can find many of our own opportunities for improvement.
We all have wonderful qualities and also less pretty ones that we struggle to recognize. Our willingness to accept these shady areas is essential if we want to foster our self-awareness. Not with the aim to be perfect and eliminate what we don’t like. But to mitigate the negative impact they have on ourselves and our environment.
Second layer: Connecting with our feelings
I think there are few people who are really connected with their feelings, or if there are, we all experience moments of disconnection. During childhood we learn to hide our emotions and throughout our lives we continue to suppress feelings to survive and fit in.
We tend to be busy fulfilling the responsibilities in our lives and we don’t always stop to observe how we are feeling. For many of us, our inner emotional world can go unnoticed us. This disconnection can lead to consequences that may become serious. There may come a time in our lives when these blocked feelings explode and we come to a halt. With the arrival of crisis, burn-out, depression or physical health problems.
Feelings have a role to fulfill. If we can get up close and personal, they can help us detect what there is in our lives that we need to change or do differently. Being more in control of our behavior, improving our relationships with others, and making better decisions.
Being able to connect with our feelings we can let them flow rather than block them thus managing our stress levels, improving our health and well-being.
Third layer: Knowing our style or personality
Each person is unique, however there are personality archetypes to understand them based the most remarkable and common characteristics in our style and behaviors.
There are different theories (such as the eneagram personality theory) and tools available that can help. If you are interested in this topic it is not difficult to find information that is both interesting and useful. Getting acquainted with these archetypes has several advantages.
Personality can’t be changed. There is no perfect or ideal personality type, they all have their advantages and challenges. We are all, to a larger or smaller degree, slaves to our personality style.
Within us, we can recognize the behaviors inherent in our personality. Identifying the tendencies that, without realizing it, we display in our behavior.
Being aware of them makes it easier to adapt our behavior. Without letting ourselves be totally carried away by our nature, when it is not appropriate or beneficial for a situation.
In others, recognizing the differences caused by personality can help us be more tolerant and compassionate. Sometimes, we pull our hair out because of what someone says or does, without understanding how they can act in that way. Recognizing that we all have a different program can help us accept those behaviors even if they are not to our liking.
Last Layer: Identifying and Meeting Our Needs
In the deepest layer of self-awareness, lies our own needs. They are often hidden under the weight of everything we’ve been acquiring during our lives. What our parents wanted for us, what our partners or children need, what we think we need to do to be loved and accepted.
Getting to knowing this deeper layer requires reflection, introspection, and sensitivity to identify what things causes us pain. For example, if the environment in which we operate it does not have values that we share. Or the work we do doesn’t take advantage of our talents or require skills that don’t come naturally to us.
Getting to the last doll and glimpsing the needs that truly come from within us is the beginning of a beautiful love story. A story in which we can take care of ourselves and at the same time we take care of others at home and at work.
In summary, self-awareness can add a lot of value to our private lives as well as help us develop the soft capabilities that are highly sought after in the workplace. We may have one of these four areas more developed than the others. However, by paying attention to all four, we can enhance this soft skill and feel good personally and professionally.