18 Jan Self-Awareness: Coaching/ Therapy Approaches & Exercises For Your Team
Why expand our consciousness by developing self-awareness?
A useful starting place for developing practical self-awareness is to consider: What is it and how might it benefit me, others, my work, my vocation and the wider world? Spending time understanding ourselves; reflecting on our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours can sometimes seem like an indulgence we cannot afford; there are too many important and practical things to be done. Exploring our interior world is a journey that we do not always want to take; we are unsure of what we might find and where it might end, and we may be ambivalent about the potential ‘return on investment’. For some people, this interior journey brings a sense of excitement and challenge, it is their equivalent of climbing Everest. For others it brings fear and defence, it is something to be avoided at all costs. Many of us are somewhere in between these two; self-awareness is great if not too costly or painful. Let us begin with what it might be. In those initial questions you will be working with your own understanding of what self-awareness is but let us also look at what some ‘experts’ might say. Our first port of call is some research published in the Harvard Business Review.
Tasha Eurich, (An organisational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times bestselling author) identified two different aspects of self-awareness: Internal and External self -awareness.
1. Internal self-awareness is concerned with how clearly we:
● See our own values, passions and aspirations,
● Sense how well we fit with our environments,
● Know our own reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviours,
strengths, and weaknesses),
● Understand our impact on others.
2. External self-awareness is about understanding how other people view us. What do they see as our values, passions, and aspirations, how well do they see us fit with our environments, how do they experience our reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses), and finally what do they see as our impacts on others?
We choose to be as we are!
Another Way of Looking At Self-Awareness
Another way of looking at this is that awareness is a form of experience; loosely defined as being in touch with one’s existence. A person who is aware of one’s existence knows what they do, how they do it and they know they have alternatives. This view of awareness which comes from Gestalt (a humanistic approach to coaching and therapy) asserts that we choose to be as we are. (Yontef, 1993)
If we think about this last statement a little more, we realise how strong it is, it speaks of the personal responsibility that comes with awareness. Maybe that is one of the reasons we sometimes avoid being self-aware, it comes with great personal choice and responsibility. We choose to be as we are! Many of us use coaching to support and develop others and at its heart coaching has a meeting of this awareness with responsibility. John Whitmore (one of many parents of work-based coaching) identifies these two key elements as crucial for people to develop; the coach works with the client to raise their awareness and responsibility in areas of their work life, recognising that these will impact in their wider life. (Whitmore, 2011)
In coaching the aim is to actively raise a person’s awareness by focusing their attention on what is happening and in what context. By asking specific questions the person being coached becomes more self-aware which is key; knowing what is happening in and around you is instrumental for a person developing and improving their performance. From this awareness comes an understanding of what a person can do differently and what they can change. We start to see that one of the benefits of self-awareness is that it increases our choices and encourages us to take responsibility.
When we truly accept, choose or take responsibility for our thoughts and our actions, our commitment to them rises and so does our performance (Whitmore, 2011, p. 31) Now we have looked at some working definitions of self-awareness, pause and think how these might inform your own self-awareness.
● When do I avoid taking responsibility?
● What are my blind spots that I could understand better?
● How could I get feedback that will deepen my self-awareness?
The return on investment from self-awareness Great…we can become more self-aware both internally and externally; be more of aware of what and how we do things, but what does this lead to? There are layers of the impact of self-awareness; the first is often about the feelings that we might experience through being self-aware, the second about our relationships with others and the third about how self-awareness improves personal and team effectiveness.
The research from the Harvard Business Review speaks to the first two layers; inner self-awareness was often associated with higher levels of job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness. The research also suggested that lack of this internal self-awareness was potentially related to anxiety, stress, and depression. Leaders with good external self-awareness, who see themselves as their employees do tend to have better relationships with employees and their teams feel more satisfied with them. (Eurich, 2018)
Working At The Third Layer
When working at the third layer its useful to consider the notion of; We choose to be as we are. We start to understand that some of the dynamics and challenges we experience in the workplace may be created by us. A common example I see in the workplace is leaders bemoaning the fact that staff will not take responsibility for their own actions, work, and performance. Often a deeper observation of the leaders’ actions highlights that they like to be in control, micro-manage, advise, and tell others how to do things. In doing this they ‘steal’ responsibility and ownership from others. Why would I take responsibility if someone else is going to tell me what to do and how and when to do it, they might as well do it themselves? In this example the leader is willing to spend some time developing both inner and external awareness, they would understand the impact they are having on others; begin to see they are helping create the very dynamic that frustrates them; they would begin to see other choices and how different behaviours would enable others to take more responsibility. They may even find that their own workload lessens as they stop taking unnecessary responsibility for others. If we were to be brave, we might suggest that when I have a team that does not take responsibility (or any other way of behaving) it is that way because on some level, I choose it, or invite it through the way that I behave.
It seems that this third level brings great reward. According to a study of 486 publicly traded companies with strong financial performance all tended to have employees with higher levels of self awareness than poorly performing companies. (Esimai, 2018)
Find someone who you trust and begin to explore some of the dynamics that you might be creating in your team.
Ways To Develop Self-Awareness
So, we should be starting to see what self-awareness is and what the returns might be for individuals and business. One of the challenges is, how do we develop a useful level of self-awareness? In the research cited in the Harvard Business Review, it is estimated that only 10%–15% of the people they studied fitted the criteria of being self-aware, however a much larger proportion said they thought they were self-aware. Seems like there might be a gap between perception and reality!
The Gender-Gap In Self-Awareness
There is also a suggested ‘gender gap’; women in executive-level management positions tend to exhibit more self-awareness than men in the same positions. In a study of 17,000 individuals worldwide, Hay Group Research found that 19 percent of women executives interviewed exhibited self-awareness as compared to 4 percent of their male counterparts (Business Wire, 2012). So, is it that it is not really that important, the return on investment is just not enough? Or is it that it is quite difficult, risky, and challenging to do?
Why self awareness– Get a free worksheet that takes you through exercises, tables and journalling for your journey of self-awareness. This is a huge resource pack with loads to do, so feel free to work through it all at your own pace.
Business Wire. (2012, March 27). Women Poised to Effectively Lead in Matrix Work Environments. Retrieved from Business Wire: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20120327005180/en
Esimai, C. (2018, Feb 15th ). Great Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness. Retrieved from Forbes:
Essay Writing Service . (2021, May 5th ). Johns model of Reflection . Retrieved from Essay Writing Service :
Eurich, T. (2018, January 4th ). What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). Retrieved from Havard Business Review:
Mark Bryan, J. C. (1999). The Artists Way at Work . London: Pan books.
Tony Buzan, H. B. (2006). The Mind Map Book. London: BBC.
Whitmore, J. (2011). Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey Publising.
Yontef, G. (1993). Awareness, Dialogue and Process. Gestalt Journal , 144-145.