Understanding & Developing Self-Awareness | Executive Recruiting | Cowen Partners

      Understanding & Developing Self-Awareness

      If you were to ask someone if they felt they were self-aware, they’d most likely say they were. However, self-awareness is actually a rare trait. According to a recent study, only 10-15% of the population possesses self-awareness.

      Many people don’t realize what self-awareness really is. They may be reflective and curious about their personality and beliefs, but introspection isn’t true self-awareness. How you perceive yourself can be different from how others view you.

      Self-awareness impacts the relationships you have with others. It also affects your relationship with yourself. Self-aware individuals develop confidence and feel more comfortable with their decisions. They tend to have strong relationships with their significant others and can become truly effective leaders.

      Let’s dive into the definition of self-awareness and how you can develop it to improve your relationships and build your confidence.

      Comprehending Self-Awareness

      Thought leaders have discussed self-awareness for decades. Some describe self-awareness as internal self-monitoring, while others believe it is the difference between how we view ourselves and how the world views us. 

      There are two types of self-awareness: internal and external. Both are essential to improving relationships and general happiness.

      Internal Self-Awareness

      Internal self-awareness is a type of introspection. It includes your:

      • Values
      • Hobbies
      • Interests
      • Goals
      • Perception of your environment
      • Your impact other people

      Internally self-aware people know who they are. They’ve done the work to understand what makes them tick.

      They’re also generally happy with their intimate relationships and jobs. They feel a level of satisfaction with their lives. Conversely, individuals without much internal self-awareness tend to be depressed and anxious. They may have high levels of stress.

      External Self-Awareness

      External self-awareness is more challenging to cultivate. A person with external self-awareness can view themselves from another person’s perspective. They generally have high levels of empathy. 

      External self-awareness requires you to be open to other people’s criticism. When you’re externally self-aware, you don’t automatically reject another person’s opinion. Instead, you’re open to objectively thinking about what they said.

      4 Subtypes of Self-Awareness

      The study referenced above, conducted by Tasha Eurich, found four subtypes of self-awareness. Ms. Eurich ranks each subtype by the individual’s internal and external self-awareness level.

      1. Introspectors

      An introspector clearly understands their own beliefs and goals. They’re highly comfortable with themselves and don’t actively seek to please others. However, they are typically opposed to others’ opinions and don’t actively seek feedback. As a result, their relationships can suffer.

      2. Seekers

      A seeker has no idea who they are or what they value. They may be very young or have little drive to understand what fulfills them. They also have minimal understanding of how others see them. Seekers are the least self-aware of the subtypes.

      3. Aware

      Individuals who are aware have cultivated both internal and external self-awareness. They’re rare, but they can accurately discern what drives them and how people see them. Aware people are typically great leaders since they can balance their internal values with how others view them.

      4. Pleasers

      A pleaser doesn’t understand their ambitions, but they have a high level of empathy. They know how they appear to others. As a result, they do everything within their power to comply with others’ wishes. However, they may lose themselves and never fully understand what they want if they can’t develop an appropriate level of personal insight.

      Greater Experience Can Lead to Less Self-Awareness

      It may seem contrary, but individuals with lots of experience or who hold management roles are usually less self-aware than others. Knowledge can lead a person to believe that they have all the answers and that less experienced individuals don’t have the capability of understanding.

      Similarly, those in management positions are often less externally aware of others. The higher their role, the less willing others are to share their true thoughts. Individuals in staff positions may fear sharing their genuine beliefs with the manager may negatively impact their careers. 

      If the manager has few people above them who can provide feedback, their window of self-awareness shrinks. Eventually, they may become introspectors, wherein they understand their priorities but are blind to others. In the worst cases, they become seekers and possess a complete lack of self-awareness, either internally or externally.

      Introspection Doesn’t Always Improve Self-Awareness

      You may think that taking an active interest in understanding your thoughts and beliefs can improve your self-awareness. However, this often isn’t the case. Reading books or taking quizzes to understand your personality and actions can reduce your self-awareness.

      If you tend to self-analyze, you may find yourself in a cycle of rumination and negative thoughts. Rumination is associated with higher anxiety and depression, often brought on by inappropriate thinking patterns.

      Suppose that you become angry at a staff member because they’re a few minutes late to work. You yell at them, and they explain that a car accident backed up traffic for miles. 

      Privately, you question why you yelled at them when their offense was so minor, and they had an adequate excuse. You decide that you’re overreacting, and all of your staff members probably hate you.

      However, your outburst was driven by forgetting to take your cholesterol medication. The imbalance in your medication levels provoked a response that was not in line with how you usually act. 

      Had you asked yourself what caused your outburst rather than jumping to the conclusion that you’re an inadequate manager, you would have been exhibiting greater self-awareness skills.

      Building Self-Awareness Is an Ongoing Process

      Developing self-awareness is no easy task. Self-help books and podcasts can help, but unless you actively ask the right questions, you’re unlikely to develop both types of self-awareness fully. 

      If you genuinely want to build your self-awareness skills, you’ll need to understand what you value and where your true ambitions lie. You’ll also need to solicit feedback from someone you trust. If you’re in a senior leadership position, you may need to ask other managers or executives for their opinions. 

      Working with a therapist can also help you develop better self-awareness skills. Their insight can improve your thought cycles and give you objective feedback on your external presentation.

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