We are all different in our values and goals, with various personalities and experiences. Yet, in this diversity, a common underpinning goal appears to be shared by each of us.
Virtually all humans, in both the professional and personal dimension, aspire to be self-aware. It’s mirrored by popular phenomena such as the rise of mindfulness or self-awareness becoming almost a buzzword in leadership development.
What’s interesting, most of us believe to already be self-aware – especially in the professional sphere. Studies, however, show that only 10-15% of people can rightfully claim to be self-aware, making it a very rare quality (that’s according to the findings of analysing the results from over 50 years of studies on self-awareness conducted by Tasha Eurich – an organisational psychologist and author of Insight). Hence, as we can see, there’s some room for improvement.
Self-awareness is a process, in some cases leading to a state and hence becoming a feature, just like a character trait. The good news is that it is also a skill. And so, it can be learned and improved upon. Going further, it’s not a zero-one situation, in which we either are or aren’t self-aware. Most of us are self-aware to an extent. With feedback, self-reflection and practice, we can and should get better at it.
In a nutshell, becoming self-aware is worth your efforts, because it unlocks potential for growth, on both personal as well as professional level, and – perhaps more importantly – satisfaction. From what we do, who we are and how others perceive interactions with us. It leads to more fulfilling relationships with colleagues and better outcomes of our labour.
We believe that it is ever more important in the times of change in the legal market: when the demand for new skills is overwhelming and new roles emerge. Also, the times of increased mental health pressures and struggles for lawyers.
Becoming more aware of our values, understanding of our strengths and weaknesses – and, as a result, in tune with our goals and potential – is a mandatory first step to self-management and improvement. It’s also necessary to develop empathy and effectiveness.
Hence, we are starting our #futureprooflawyers series discussing the foundational skill of self-awareness.
In this post I present:
- What is self-awareness?
- How to become (more) self-aware?
- How to stay self-aware?
WHAT IS SELF-AWARENESS
There is no one definition of self-awareness. Yet, most have a lot in common, referring to knowing and understanding – hence, being aware and conscious of – our:
- character’s traits,
- strengths and weaknesses,
- thoughts, and
For example, Daniel Goleman (a psychologist who popularised the term “emotional intelligence”) proposes that self-awareness is:
knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
- Emotional Awareness: Recognising one’s emotions and their effects.
- Accurate Self-Assessment: Knowing one’s strengths and limits.
- Self-Confidence: A strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities.
It turns out, this is only one aspect of self-awareness, dubbed by Tasha Eurich’s team the “internal self-awareness”. It’s overwhelmingly inward-facing, though it takes into consideration our own awareness of how these inner states, behaviours and features impact others. It’s associated and impacts, among others, relationship and job satisfaction in a positive correlation. So, the more self-aware one is, the more likely their job will be satisfying to them and their happiness greater. The less self-aware – the more likely their stress and anxiety will be higher and their happiness much lower.
Then, there’s a second aspect, the “external self-awareness”. It refers to our understanding of how those same qualities of us are perceived by others. Hence, it’s more outward-facing. As a result, people who can see themselves through the lens of others, tend to be more empathetic. This, in turn, is associated with the quality of relationships with others.
An understanding focusing on this second, external, dimension is, for example, one provided by Cam Caldwell (a management consultant and professor):
Interestingly, as Eurich’s studies showed, there is no correlation between the internal and external self-awareness. People high on one do not necessarily score high on the other (and vice versa). In fact, there are four self-awareness archetypes: introspectors, aware, seekers and pleasers (see more on the study here).
Ideally, for our own and those around us benefit, we shall aim for becoming aware – high on both internal and external self-awareness. Let’s unpack how.
HOW TO BECOME (MORE) SELF-AWARE
Short answer: mindfulness.
That’s what comes to mind as a route to developing self-awareness.
Specifically, though, how?
With the question of all questions: “Why?”. To learn the causes.
However, this is largely, yet not fully the correct answer.
Firstly, that’s because our human nature gets in the way.
Secondly, some more structured approaches, especially involving others, appear to be the most beneficial.
In other words: we cannot develop our selves truly by ourselves. We need feedback.
As human beings, we have a natural tendency to see what we want to see. We might not be keen on seeing the (objective and full) truth. As a result, we rationalise or fictionalise – even to our inner selves. So, we provide explanations as to what we feel is right or should be. Asking the why-questions provides a great space for invention. Just as much as running this self-assessment fully internally.
To avoid such situations – where our introspections transpire to be ineffective or even damaging, we shall:
- replace “Why?” with “What?” questions;
- turn to other people, especially the “loving critics”.
As an example of moving to what from why, think of asking yourself “What can I do to achieve X?” or “What did I do so that X had happened?”, as opposed to “Why do I want X” or “Why did I do X?”. When receiving feedback – for example when you’re told “You were clumsy in that task.” instead of asking “Why?” ask “What can I do to deliver (not be clumsy)?”. This way, we can focus on the process and the outcomes in a more objective manner. It leads to a more structured approach to tackling issues.
In terms of seeking feedback, there are numerous ways to get input from others.
The most indirect and general way – which is a good starting point to confront our internal and external self-awareness – is by using questionnaires, tests and quizzes. Even better, if we fill out a form and ask someone who knows us to do the same, about us. Actually, some self-awareness tests are constructed this way, requiring input from those who know us.
To ask somebody is the best way to find out how others see us and how our self-perception compares to it. This could be a professional, for example, a coach, as well as a colleague.
Yet, beware, as this might prove a tricky task.
What are the dangers?
To not fall into the trap of people not telling us the truth (because they do not want to hurt us, since conveying negative messages is not easy for either side) or the full truth (because they do not know us that well to be able to truly assess our character, actions etc).
Ask “loving critics” (to follow Tasha Eurich’s terminology). As the name suggests, these are the people who have the best interests of ours in mind and heart. Therefore, when dispensing their feedback – especially in regard to what we could improve, its negative aspect – they do so with the goal of making us better. Their intent is our fulfilment and happiness. What’s more, the method of sharing such feedback is equally appropriate and taking into consideration how we communicate and interact. That’s because those close to us – whether family, friends or colleagues – know us well enough to know how to have a difficult conversation. Equally, by virtue of this closeness, they’re more likely to have a full picture of us, and so provide a more rounded commentary and advice.
Having received such feedback we shall reflect and act upon it. Self-awareness is a balancing act between its internal and external aspects. It’s also an ongoing climb.
… AND HOW TO STAY SELF-AWARE
As indicated, self-awareness fluctuates over time, depending on factors from within and from the outside. Ironically, once we become… aware of self-awareness we enter a process of analysing, assessing, improving and upkeeping its levels to the desired state. Especially when we’ve experienced the benefits of reaching higher echelons of self-awareness, the added motivation appears.
Yet, there are some obstacles to the constant growth of self-awareness. Empirical studies identified some typical roadblocks, as summarised by Tasha Eurich:
- Contrary to popular beliefs, people do not always learn from experience, especially from their own mistakes. Feedback mechanism in humans is not the same as in machine systems.
- Expertise is not a bulletproof shield from false information. Even experts may and do make mistakes – about themselves and the world around.
- The more experienced and powerful people become, the harder it is to receive and take negative feedback and see the need for improvement.
The last point appears especially interesting. At first, it seems counter-intuitive to think that leaders, by virtue of their leadership highly skilled, attentive, aware and so on might be lacking in what made them leaders in the first place. However, approaching this from the life experience viewpoint, it becomes clear why and how the most powerful might come to be less in tune with their outer and inner worlds.
Firstly, the higher the position and success of a leader, the more likely they will be to overestimate their skills and abilities. And so, power and success hinder self-awareness.
Secondly, the willingness to listen to others and, even more, the ability to truly put themselves in their shoes – given the growing distance, become rare.
Thirdly, even if there was such disposition, the pool of people available to share valuable and candid feedback shrinks. All in all, who dares to criticise the(ir) big boss?
Does it necessarily have to be this way? No!
Most importantly, we need to vigilantly observe the principle of “intellectual humility”. Simply put: of knowing that we do not know everything.
Then, the same exercises and techniques still apply, as to those who are not as far on their self-awareness development journey. Only that these get harder to practise. This, in fact, might prove one of the tests of true leadership. Leadership is perhaps paradoxical in a way that expertise is paired along staying humble and always open to feedback and learning.
Self-awareness makes us more cognizant internally – of our emotions, motivations, goals; and externally – of how we’re perceived by others and how our actions and beliefs affect them. It is crucial in developing emotional intelligence, as well as mindfully and successfully growing in any sphere (professional or personal). With greater self-awareness comes wisdom, understanding and trust. It makes us more effective (for example aiding skill development, intuitive decision-making, motivation, empathy and leadership). It extends onto colleagues and organisations of self-aware leaders, as they, too, become more effective and successful.
Most importantly, greater-self awareness helps us be more fulfilled and happy. In turn, we can share these benefits with others. Ultimately, this is what matters.
Looking forward to comments and questions – get in touch! Thank you for reading 😊
This article is overwhelmingly based on the work of Tasha Eurich, Ph. D., which I found the most complete, relevant and up-to-date in the field of self-awareness in the context of professional development.
I highly recommend reading Tasha Eurich’s book, Insight.
In the meantime, you can learn from this TEDx presentation by Tasha Eurich:
Karolina Jackowicz is a (re)inventor. With analytical mind – lawyer by education. As curious and empathetic spirit – mediator by profession. At heart, driven by creative urge with a get-go attitude – a habitual process improver turned manager, serving as legal tech start-up’s CEO. When not on the road: swimming, reading or walking basenji Amiś.