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  • Writer's pictureJilian Houghton

Self Awareness: The Key to Shifting your Paradigm

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Thirteen years ago I was a newly minted customer service manager, standing at the front of a small conference room ready to lead my first meeting with the title. I was determined to not let my voice waver, my clammy hands be seen, or the rumbling of imposter syndrome manifest itself. You can rest assured I had put in the hours, read the books, and taken the leadership assessments to prepare. All of it culminated in the crisp and well thought out agenda I held in my hand. The meeting was designed to be equal parts--empowering training, achievable vision, relatable takeaways, and clear assignments. The intent was obviously very lofty at the outset, especially considering the team was made up of mostly college students who had to come in early for this meeting. Can you think of any college students who are ready to forever change the trajectory of their working lives at 6AM on a Thursday?

After the meeting ended everyone gathered up the remnants of their assorted bagel options and headed to their desks. I didn't expect thunderous applause but I had hoped for a "good first meeting" or an "excited to work with you" type of sentiment. But the absence of any feedback felt pretty damning. After four long hours of mental agony I got up the courage to ask a friend at lunch how she thought the meeting went.

"It was good, I used that first strategy you talked about with a customer this morning, but you just said everything so loud, like yelling loud. I struggled to listen to the last fifteen minutes."

If she didn't listen to the last fifteen minutes as someone who was invested personally as well as professionally, how much of it had everyone else tuned out? I had no idea I was yelling, I never paused in the midst of the meeting to address the glazed eyes, or lack of responsiveness. I had been so "me" focused, that despite productive intentions, I negatively impacted the team with my overzealous volume.

At 34th Street, we preach paradigms at every opportunity, when people ask for one key takeaway to change their interactions at work 'the paradigm problem' is always on deck. Understanding our paradigm and then seeking to understand someone else's is pivotal to successful workplace relationships. Our unique lens to the world affects everything we think, do and become. That first meeting was completely molded and shaped by my paradigm without any consideration for the perspectives of my team. It took me a another couple of meetings, in which I checked in periodically with the team about pace, volume, and connection, until I finally hit my stride.

We've all heard references to self awareness at work, usually in a negative context--

'Barbie just isn't self aware'

'Ken really can't see what he's doing to the team'

or (fill in the blank) REALLY lacks self awareness.

Yet many of us don't have a clear understanding of what it is, or perhaps can't quite articulate it effectively. Your paradigm is your unique lens to the world and self awareness is your ability to understand and examine that filter. It's made up of two distinct parts. Self awareness is the keystone to all the other meta skills like collaboration, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution. The two key components of self awareness are who we believe we are and how we impact those around us. Both have to be understood to be truly self aware and subsequently be able to create sustained positive change.

The benefits of self awareness are comprehensive and undeniable. Researchers have found that when we understand who we are, we are better communicators, problem solvers, and team members. Self awareness is also associated with better leadership, more satisfied employees, and higher collaboration.* The costs associated with the absence of self awareness are just as substantial, increased and entrenched conflict, silos, poor or diminished communication, complete breach of trust, toxicity, inefficiency, and increased turnover.

The Dilemma

The self awareness dilemma arises for many because the two components are not related. Just because you know yourself really well, doesn't mean you understand the impact you're having on those you work with, or just because you understand how to placate your boss and team members, doesn't mean you know what motivates you to do your best. If you know who you are, what matters most to you, what you want out of life, and examine your strengths as well as your weaknesses then you probably have high internal self awareness. If you have a clear picture of how your body language impacts your team, and your tone guides the meeting you're leading then you may have high external self awareness.

Having one without the other can really be disastrous. Think of that manager who is constantly shape shifting to be whatever they need to be in that particular moment to be liked, high external and low internal self awareness can lead to people pleasing at best or a lack of integrity in the extreme. High internal self awareness and low external awareness leads to your coworker who is always talking about themselves. When you sit down at lunch to have a conversation they’re quick to answer your one question about what they did lately with a saga about rock climbing-why it’s the best thing for you, how it can protect the environment, why the best people rock climb and why they’re so good at it. They’re passion is evident. (For the record, we love rock climbing too.)

The reality is self awareness is made of those two distinct truths that at times can even feel like they are contradictory.* These two components of self awareness must be developed independently and equitably in order to not only improve your abilities as a leader, but also impact all of your relationships at work.

Begin to See Yourself Clearly

Start with internal self awareness. Answer questions like the ones below to give you a better understanding of what matters to you. It is important to realize who you are before you tackle the equally important and necessary task of soliciting feedback from caring critics.

  1. What are your guiding principles?

  2. What creates excitement for you? What are you passionate about?

  3. What do you want to experience or achieve?

  4. What environment do you need to be happy?

  5. What are your thoughts, feelings and behaviors at any given moment? (Those usually reveal our strengths and weaknesses, if we examine the "why" behind our reactions)

Figure out what makes you tick, especially as it pertains to your work environment and career goals, but remember that is only ONE piece of the self awareness framework. You need to also come to realize the impact you are having on all those around you and as much as we'd like to think we can "self reflect" our way to the evidence on that one, introspection just won't do it. We are going to have to ask for feedback.

We train teams, departments and agencies on how to create a culture of caring critics who support one another through feedback give and take. You can fill out the contact us form and schedule more training tailored to your team today or we can also just share a couple strategies to start trying to implement on your own if that's a better fit for you. Either way reach out to us if you need some help. We'll share more about external self awareness in our next post.

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