- Open expression
- Unconscious beliefs and feelings
- Things never considered
These levels may be appreciated as forms of what one can express openly, admit to others or oneself or not, as the case may be.
Key Areas for Self-Awareness
Human beings are complex and diverse. To become more self-aware, we should develop an understanding of ourselves in many areas. Key areas for self-awareness include our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions, and the psychological needs that drive our behaviors.
We don’t normally change our personalities, values and needs based on what we learn about ourselves. But, an understanding of our personalities can help us find situations in which we will thrive, and help us avoid situations in which we will experience too much stress. For instance, if you are a highly introverted person, you are likely to experience more stress in a sales position than a highly extroverted person would. So, if you are highly introverted, you should either learn skills to cope with the demands of a sales position that requires extravert-type behavior patterns, or you should find a position that is more compatible with your personality. Awareness of your personality helps you analyze such a decision.
It’s important that we each know and focus on our personal values. For instance, if your first priority is “being there for your children” or “your relationship with God,” it’s very easy to lose sight of those priorities on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. During the workday, so many problems and opportunities arise that our lists of “things to do” can easily exceed the time we have to do them. Since few (if any) of those things pertain to what we value most, it’s easy to spend too much time on lower priority activities. When we focus on our values, we are more likely to accomplish what we consider most important.
Our habits are the behaviors that we repeat routinely and often automatically. Although we would like to possess the habits that help us interact effectively with and manage others, we can probably all identify at least one of our habits that decreases our effectiveness. For example, if you are a manager who never consults your staff before making decisions, that habit may interfere with your ability to build your staff members’ commitment to the decisions and their decision-making skills as well.
Maslow and other scholars have identified a variety of psychological needs that drive our behaviors such as needs for esteem, affection, belongingness, achievement, self-actualization, power and control. One of the advantages of knowing which needs exert the strongest influence on our own behaviors is the ability to understand how they affect our interpersonal relationships. For instance, most of us have probably known people who have a high need for status. They’re attracted to high status occupations, and they seek high status positions within their organizations. Such people also want the things that symbolize their status. They insist that they be shown respect, and they want privileges and perks that people of lower status can’t have. Sometimes these people fight for things that others see as inconsequential–like a bigger office. (This month, a senior colleague is taking my office and sending me to a lesser office!) Needs cause motivation; and when they aren’t satisfied, needs can cause frustration, conflict and stress.
Emotional self-awareness has become a hot topic of discussion recently because it’s one of the five facets of emotional intelligence. Understanding your own feelings, what causes them, and how they impact your thoughts and actions is emotional self-awareness. If you were once excited about your job but not excited now, can you get excited again? To answer that question, it helps to understand the internal processes associated with getting excited. That sounds simpler than it is. Here’s an analogy: I think I know how my car starts–I put gas in the tank, put the key in the ignition, and turn the key. But, my mechanic knows a lot more about what’s involved in getting my car started than I do–he knows what happens under the hood. My mechanic is able to start my car on the occasions when I’m not because he understands the internal processes. Similarly, a person with high emotional self-awareness understands the internal process associated with emotional experiences and, therefore, has greater control over them.
How Self-Awareness Makes You More Effective
Improvement projects should normally begin with an assessment of the gap between the current situation and the desired future situation. Having an accurate sense of who you are helps you decide what you should do to improve. Often, self-awareness will reveal a skills gap that you want to work on.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses
Self-awareness helps you exploit your strengths and cope with your weaknesses. For instance, if you are someone who is good at “seeing the big picture” that surrounds decisions, but not as good at focusing on the details, you might want to consult colleagues and subordinates that are more detail-oriented when making major decisions. Cooperation between big-picture-oriented decision makers and detail-oriented decision makers can produce high quality decisions.
Developing intuitive decision-making skills
Leaders with well-developed emotional self-awareness are more effective intuitive decision makers. In complex situations, intuitive decision makers process large amounts of sometimes unstructured and ambiguous data, and they choose a course of action based on a “gut feeling” or a “sense” of what’s best. This type of decision making is becoming more important for managers as the rate of change and the levels of uncertainty and complexity in their competitive environments increase. Managers who are highly emotionally self-aware are better able to read their “gut feelings” and use them to guide decisions.
Jobs that don’t suit your personality tend to give you more stress than jobs that are more compatible. This is not to say that you should never take a job that conflicts with your personality. However, be aware that you will need to work extra hard to develop the skills for that job, and there are jobs that would be less stressful for you.
It’s very difficult to cope with poor results when you don’t understand what causes them. When you don’t know what behaviors to change to improve your performance, you just feel helpless. Self-awareness is empowering because it can reveal where the performance problems are and indicate what can be done to improve performance. In addition, awareness of your psychological needs can increase your motivation by helping you understand and seek out the rewards that you really desire such as a sense of accomplishment, additional responsibility, an opportunity to help others, or a flexible work schedule.
When we understand “what make us tick”–what gets us excited, why we behave the way we do, etc.–we also have insight into what makes others tick. To the extent that other people are like you (and, of course, there are limits to the similarity), knowing how to motivate yourself is tantamount to knowing how to motivate others.