Five proven methods to achieve true self-awareness

Written by Annie Makoff-Clark Tuesday 26 January 2021
Great leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses. But achieving genuine self-awareness is not always easy
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Self-awareness is the key to being a better manager, as any good leadership book or credible website will tell you. But as a concept, it’s not always obvious how to reach this holy grail. How, after all, does one become more self-aware in the workplace, and what does it involve?

In a recent CMI webinar, David McLaughlin CMgr, ChMC assessment manager at CMI, outlined the key areas managers might want to consider.

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’: Socrates

This may be a philosophical statement, but according to David, it resonates in a workplace context because it reminds us to reflect on how we are living our lives and how we’re behaving and performing in the workplace.

“Are we performing and behaving in ways we really want to or have we fallen into the trap of pretending to be something we’re not?” he asks. He refers to this as the ‘chameleon effect’ where people find themselves behaving or acting in a way just to fit in. This behaviour is often unconscious but the key, says David, is to regularly ‘check-in’ with ourselves to remain authentic. “As cheesy as it sounds, the world needs you, not you pretending to be someone else.”

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness, says David, is being aware of who we are and how we come across. He suggests three questions:

  • How much do you understand about how you come across?
  • What impact do you and your behaviour have on other people? What are you saying without words?

Thinking about how we come across to others is vital and being aware of the non-verbal cues we unconsciously give off is crucial. And not just body language, either. It may be in facial expressions, gestures or, in a non-pandemic social distancing world, how much space and distance we give others.

“All of these things have a big effect on the way people interact and deal with you, the way people trust and rely on you and the way they may consider you for roles in the future, all based on how you behave,” David explains.

It’s not all about IQ

According to David, there’s a lot more to self-awareness than intelligence. The emotional approach is vitally important. He highlights five areas to reflect on in particular:

  • Self-awareness – emotions and confidence
  • Self-regulation – self-control, trustworthiness and adaptability
  • Motivation – personal drivers, commitment
  • Empathy – understanding others, reading the room, developing others
  • Social skills – influence, communication, leadership collaboration, conflict management

As David explains, we need to consider all these things through the lens of self-awareness to develop and improve as people. It’s just as important to be aware of our emotions and question if they are effective (or indeed manipulative) as it is to think about how adaptable or trustworthy we are as individuals. We also need to consider our motivation and personal drivers: have we been asked to do something that might be against our values? Are we working somewhere which doesn’t fit with who we are? Are we our unique, authentic selves?

“A big part of self-awareness is being authentic and genuine,” says David. “I can’t stress that enough. If you are not authentic and genuine, people will see right through you. They will see it’s a sham and they will stop trusting you on that basis.”

But there’s a caveat to all this: while it’s important to reflect and question ourselves on these issues, it’s essential to move on. Otherwise, David warns, you risk ‘falling down a rabbit hole’. As David puts it: “So answer the questions then move on or you’ll drive yourself mad. It’s a balancing act to ensure you keep yourself sane and mentally well.”

Use the Johari Window technique

David recommends using the Johari Window technique to better understand yourself and your relationship with others. It is based around four panes:

  • Open – what we already know about ourselves
  • Hidden  – what others do not know about us
  • Blind Spot – what we don’t know about ourselves
  • Unknown – what is unknown about ourselves and unknown by others

Communication skills

“We all have one mouth and two ears, and we should use them in that proportion,” says David. It’s about active listening: paying complete attention to someone without doing anything else. Interrupting or finishing someone’s sentences because you think you understand is also a no-no.

“Finishing someone’s sentence isn’t empathy,” David cautions. “If you’re listening, you need to give them your full attention and be able to watch what their non-verbal communication is showing you. You need to be present in order to understand.”

Self-brand and our personal environment

How we act, dress and behave, and what we surround ourselves with all creates an overall impression of the sort of person we are. But, says David, it’s crucial to think about what impression this gives off. It’s as much about being true to our values as it is about the image we create through our personal environment and choice of clothes. Do you want to be known as the person with the messy desk or the individual who wears t-shirts with inappropriate slogans?

“There are no right or wrong answers, it’s just something to think about,” says David. “So if all this is what you want to say, crack on. If not, you may need to change things.”

Personal Power

David believes it’s important to consider where our own ‘personal power’ comes from:

  • Power over (formal authority)
  • Power through (expertise or knowledge)
  • Power of (resource control)
  • Power from (Interpersonal skills)

“We need to check in with ourselves where our power is coming from,” says David. “Again, there’s no right or wrong. Are we coming from a place of empathy and social interaction? Are we genuine? Are coming down too hard and using our power?”

Undertake an inventory and SWOT yourself

We can develop genuine self-awareness from critical friends and colleagues' insight: people who will tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. Self-analysis and 360-degree feedback can be helpful, too. And so too can a SWOT analysis. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, be open-mindful and flexible but ultimately, maintain a sense of balance, so you don’t become overly fixated on one issue.

“Treat yourself like a project,” says David. “It sounds ridiculous, but it works for a lot of people.”

You can watch this webinar in full here. Have you checked out our full listings of upcoming events?

Self-awareness and self-reflection are hugely important for any manager wanting to have a fulfilling career. Only when you can analyse yourself can you find areas to strengthen and progress further. CMI members can find more resources in ManagementDirect, an exclusive member benefit. 

Our Chartered Managers perfect their self-reflection skills along their qualification journey – we understand how important it is to analyse your skills honestly so it’s embedded into Chartered status. Have you started your journey yet?

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