July 16, 2019
Despite many people’s belief in their self-awareness, there’s a lack of it. Follow these steps to assess, build and improve it throughout your organization.
The research indicates that more self-aware individuals understand others better, enabling them to lead more effectively.
However, while most people believe they are self-aware, a study by The Eurich Group shows that the quality of self-awareness is actually in short supply.
There are a number of reasons to believe that greater general levels of self-awareness at organizations lead to positive business outcomes. For example, studies such as those by Bass & Yammarino, Atwater & Yammarino, and Church showed that people with more accurate self-conception tended to perform better.
At the top level, the relationship between self-awareness and flexibility is demonstrated by a study of the Royal Navy, which found that more self-aware leaders were better able to tailor their leadership style to the needs of the situation at hand. Better employee performance plus more agile leadership typically leads to a better bottom line.
There’s also reason to believe that it might influence retention. My team at the Myers-Briggs Co. recently researched workplace well-being with over 10,000 global respondents, and found that individuals with a higher level of well-being — which can stem from self-awareness — had significantly higher levels of job satisfaction and were significantly less likely to look for a new job.
What Is Self-awareness, and How Does It Help You?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary self-awareness is “Conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.” Researcher Anna Sutton further elaborates on this to describe it as, “The extent to which people are consciously aware of their interactions or relationships with others and of their internal states.”
Think about a time you took your car in for a tune-up. Nothing major was fixed, but afterward it drove like a dream. Similarly, increasing your self-awareness can help you perform better — by discovering how you operate, you begin to understand how to adjust your behaviors for better results.
You also begin to understand other people’s approaches too. In our own recent research on self-awareness, survey respondents reported that increased self-awareness led to improvements in confidence, decision-making, people-management and stress management. When we asked people about the advantages of being self-aware, the top responses were:
- Understanding of reactions and motivation.
- Management of self and others.
- Ability to adapt behavior.
- Relationship improvement.
- Personal growth.
Additionally, people said that self-awareness was particularly helpful when:
- Working with others in a team (mentioned by 58 percent of survey respondents).
- Coping with stress (mentioned by 54 percent of survey respondents).
- Acting as a coach (mentioned by 53 percent of survey respondents).
- Dealing with change (mentioned by 50 percent of survey respondents).
- Managing and leading others (mentioned by 45 percent of survey respondents).
- Dealing with clients (mentioned by 33 percent of survey respondents).
- Receiving coaching or feedback (mentioned by 28 percent of survey respondents).
How Is Self-awareness Measured?
A number of models and assessments can be employed to measure self-awareness in individuals, but one particularly useful one comes from a 2015 study by Sutton, Williams and Allinson which identified four facets of self-awareness: Reflection, Insight, Rumination and Mindfulness. In our own research, here is a sampling of the included questions designed to measure these facets:
- I often reflect on my thoughts. I do not often think about the way I am feeling.
- I enjoy exploring my “inner self.”
- I often reflect on my feelings.
- Others would benefit from reflecting more on their thoughts.
- I am interested in analyzing the behavior of others.
- I value opportunities to evaluate my behavior.
- It is important to understand why people behave in the way they do.
- When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I can easily name these feelings.
- I usually know why I am feeling the way I do.
- I am often on autopilot and do not pay much attention to what I am doing.
- Sometimes I am careless because I am preoccupied, with many things on my mind.
- I often dwell on the past or the future, rather than the present.
- My mind often wanders when I am trying to concentrate.
- I often find myself thinking about past negative events.
- When things go wrong, I often ruminate on them for long periods of time.
- I tend not to look back and think about how I could have done things differently.
How Can a Workplace Professional Promote Self-Awareness?
There are many ways to develop self-awareness, but a mix of methods will probably work best. Here are some of the most popular, based on responses to our survey.
- Feedback from peers.
- Completing personality questionnaires.
- Feedback from family, managers, clients, subordinates and a wider network.
- Training to become a coach.
- Professional training.
- 360-degree tools.
However, the most popular methods aren’t necessarily the best. We looked at a number of commonly used approaches and found that the best methods, in order of effectiveness, were:
- Training to be a coach.
- Being coached.
- Having structured feedback from your peers.
- Completing personality assessments.
It wasn’t too surprising that “training to be a coach” topped the list, as this involves many, many hours of learning to understand oneself before being allowed to coach others. Of course, such training is also time consuming and expensive and not a realistic route for most employees.
On the other hand, “being coached oneself” as a way to help senior managers, is something that many organizations may invest in. It does, however, come with a significant cost and time commitment, so companies might want to look into having ‘structured feedback from your peers and completed personality assessments, which may in fact be the most cost-effective approaches in terms of providing the biggest payoff for a relatively low monetary investment.
Similarly, journaling, the practice of keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of your life, offers a low-cost way to effectively promote self-awareness.
However, companies should note that one of the interesting findings of our research was that “feedback from your manager” was seen to be one of the least effective methods. This is an important point because, as noted earlier, this kind of feedback was also listed as one of the most common methods of promoting self-awareness that organizations leverage.
Though we cannot say exactly why manager feedback was not seen as especially effective, there are a number of possible reasons. Some managers may be less close to their subordinate’s work than peers, seen to have particular agendas or as too busy with other aspects of their job. Whatever the reason, this is a troubling finding for managers.
You’re Self-Aware, Now What?
Self-awareness is really just the first step. Once individuals become more aware of their own personality preferences and have a structure to understand and describe them, they can start to recognize how their co-workers are similar to or different from them and begin to devise strategies to work with them more effectively. Linked to this greater understanding, managers and workplace professionals can put in place systems to help people work together more effectively. This could include approaches such as:
- Establishing a modus operandi for working together that takes account of the rights and the responsibilities of different personality types.
- Ensuring that important information is communicated in a range of different ways (rather than only in a style that suits the personality of the sender).
- Allowing time for reflection during or after meetings.
- Considering personality preferences when reorganizing office layouts.
Regardless of whether some or all of the approaches are taken, the key to successfully implementing any of these is the realization that we are different from others in ways that can be identified and described, and the harnessing of this diversity of personality in a positive way.
John Hackston, head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, is a chartered psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in helping clients to use psychometric tests and questionnaires in a wide range of contexts including selection, leadership development, performance management and team building.