Karen Darrin

Harvard Business Review recently published an article that blew the top of my head off. The article was “What Self-Awareness Really Is (And How To Cultivate It)” HBR Article.  Based on multiple research studies, the author, Tasha Eurich, PhD, unearthed the following conclusions:

  1. There Are Two Types of Self-Awareness:  Internal and External (see my next post)
  2. Experience and Power Hinder Self-Awareness (future post topic)
  3. Introspection Doesn’t Always Improve Self-Awareness

First, I have to confess that I am a “self-awareness junkie.” Becoming more “self-aware” is my focus with my clients. We can always improve our self-confidence and being aware of how you are perceived (by yourself and others) is foundational to self-confidence. With my executive coaching clients (using 360 assessments), the external self-awareness piece is usually the toughest to understand and accept. Many executives don’t believe those viewpoints and disregarded them, which speaks conclusion #2.

But #3, “Introspection does not always improve self-awareness,” just stopped me in my tracks. How could that be true? Wasn’t introspection the key skill I have been practicing and teaching others with the goal of being as clear as possible with how we show up in the world?

Digging deeper into Eurich’s article, you will find an insightful nugget.  The reason introspection doesn’t always improve self-awareness is due to the type of questions we ask ourselves. We typically default to “why” questions: “Why did I just say that?  Why can’t I get over how annoyed I am at this employee? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut about this issue?”  We seek to understand our emotions, behaviors or attitudes with “why” and it turns out to be a useless approach to our self development.

There are two negative consequences of asking “why:”

  1. Since we don’t have access to our sub-conscious thoughts, we tend to pounce on the first thought that seems to be the reason for the unwelcome reaction; and, it can be completely wrong.  For example, you may have snapped at your direct report instead of coaching her about a slip-up. In asking “why” you determine that you just have no patience and decide you need to work on this. In reality, you just didn’t sleep well last night and have had too much caffeine this morning.
  2. We tend to ruminate endlessly on those negative thoughts we believe explained our actions (“I am not a patient manager”). The endless loops of our faults can cause depression, anxiety and erode our well-being. Positive outcomes are rare.

Eurich’s team examined thousands of highly self-aware people (as defined by the three elements) and found that they approached introspection with “what” questions. “What” questions helped them stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on their new insights.

For example, back to our caffeinated and exhausted manager. He could ask “what is it about me this morning that has made me so impatient and annoyed?” or, “what could I do differently next time to be in a better frame of mind for this discussion?”

These types of questions helps the manager move to solutions instead of ruminating unproductively on past behavior patterns. So, as a professional seeking to be more self-aware, next time you experience an action, behavior or emotion that you deem unwelcome, ask yourself the “what” questions and see what you can uncover. Improved self-awareness awaits.

Self-awareness is a powerful skill. It has been scientifically proven to yield better leaders, employees and companies, less depression, more confidence, creativity, sounder decisions, and even more promotions. Seeing yourself clearly is a skill worthy of your ongoing attention.

Next week, I will summarize conclusion #1, Internal and External Self-Awareness.

CALL TO ACTION:  What is your current challenge? Let’s brainstorm on the “what” questions you could ponder to move forward. Slot a complimentary 30-min consult here:  Schedule Free Consult.

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