7 Ways to Build Self-Awareness

Why Self-Awareness Matters

Self-awareness is touted as one of those leadership rites of passage. A goal in and of itself. To become more self-aware is to be one step further along the road to enlightenment. Or so we’re led to believe.

However, self-awareness alone doesn’t make you a better human being, a better team player, a better leader. The downside can be self-obsession, rigid inflexibility, and general annoyance when the newly self-aware proudly claim their self-awareness, closely followed by WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) as if that is the final and definitive place to arrive.

So, why is it important to develop self-awareness?

The essence of greater self-awareness is described by Sir John Whitmore: awareness leads to greater responsibility. With more awareness of self, we can take more responsibility for ourselves and who we are being.

Greater self-awareness enables us to self-manage differently, make different choices about what we do and how we ‘show up’ to others. It enables us to use our resourcefulness mindfully, potentially with greater impact. It can be the starting point for understanding others, for creating different and more productive ways of building relationships, for enabling deeper collaboration.

Self-awareness isn’t the goal, it’s a gateway.

Here are 7 great ways to build self-awareness:

1) Ask for feedback

This sounds easy. And it can be, but getting it right takes thought and skill. “Did I do OK?” is not asking for feedback. It’s asking for confirmation. On the other hand “What went well? What could be even better?” is a skilled way to ask for feedback. There are a lot of skills building programmes that focus on what good feedback looks like and how to give it – but how do you receive feedback well? Asking for feedback and getting useful feedback depends on asking openly and receiving with openness, grace and curiosity.

Keep asking for feedback. It’s not a one time / one person exercise and it’s not an every time / every person exercise. Create a skilled habit and keep listening.

2) Take a psychometric

Psychometric assessments measure how much an individual possesses particular psychological attributes compared to a wider population (e.g. warmth or dominance). This kind of assessment typically generates a profile of scores or preferences that offer you a slightly fuzzy picture of you and how you ‘show up’ in comparison to others. Your profile gives you an opportunity to explore your way of being in the world along some useful dimensions. As well as being an instrument for self-awareness, a psychometric assessment gives you insight into the ways that others might be, how they might act and what drives them, how to understand them – and importantly, that all these ways of being are inherently OK.

Don’t stop with just one psychometric, though. Psychometric assessments cover many things: Personality, Values, Strengths, Motivation, Skills and Abilities. Each one offers a different lens into the self. Try lots of them. Many will help you build insight into yourself. A word of caution, however: there are a lot of psychometrics available, but they’re not all high quality. Just because an instrument claims to measure something there is no guarantee that it really measures what it claims, or is of any practical, real-world use. Stay open minded but keep questioning.

3) Share more of yourself

You only ever get to see a small part of others, and similarly, they only get to see a small part of you. The more you share what’s ‘hidden’ – the things that are important to you, your thinking, your motivations, the more you create a meaningful human connection. The opportunity to refine your self-awareness grows, as, if you get it right, others will follow your lead, share and also give you feedback on how they experience you.

This is a great way to build trust whatever your interpersonal style. If you’re someone who shies away from being at the centre of things, or prefers keeping private, you don’t have to ‘reveal all’. Opening up just a little can significantly deepen your relationships.

4) Explore differences

As human beings, we tend to gloss over the differences of those we see as ‘more like us’, or those we want to aspire to be like, and accentuate the differences of those we view as ‘less like us’ or want to be more distant from. Rather than seeing differences as the criteria for in-group vs out-group membership, take time to think about and explore those differences – they will help you understand yourself and others more deeply.

5) Investigate impact

It’s easy to assume that you had a particular impact on someone by judging what happened next. This can be a good strategy some of the time, and also lead to some significant errors. First, it assumes that you were the main influence in the action that resulted. Second, if things don’t work out as you had anticipated, you can start to feel that you didn’t have an impact at all – when maybe you did. Rather than a cloak and dagger approach to this investigation, transparency and curiosity can work much better. So, don’t ask: “Why didn’t you do what I suggested?” Instead, ask an open question such as “What led you to make that choice in the end?”

6) Get a coach

If you’re ready to make the investment, personally and financially, getting a coach can be particularly helpful to support you to gain greater self-awareness in partnership with someone who is professionally qualified to walk with you on this journey. Depending on their experience and qualifications, a coach can enable you to make greater sense of your inner world, your interpersonal world and how to impact differently on the situations you find yourself in. This can lead to greater empowerment and a clear sense of choice over many aspects of your life that you might have thought were fixed.

7) Become a coach

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up your day job. Far from it. Building and deepening your coaching skills is a great way to develop your self-awareness, to really learn how to impact differently. Just such a person remarked to me recently how at least 50% of her learning to become a coach was learning about herself and how to manage herself differently. This she could usefully take in to her role as a manager, and importantly use with other colleagues in the business.

There are numerous coaching development courses and coach training pathways. But that is a subject for another article.

And finally…

• What could you do to increase your self-awareness today?
• What choices could that greater self-awareness give you?
• What could you do with that?

About the author: Dr Alison Whybrow collaborates on Aptimore’s personalised learning platform. A Chartered Occupational Psychologist and co-founder of the Special Group in Coaching Psychology of the British Psychological Society, she also runs her own niche coaching and consulting business focused on aligning purpose, culture and leadership capability to strengthen Relational Capital.

Aptimore is a personalised online learning platform focused on the transferable skills that people need for management, leadership and working with others – including self-awareness.

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