Coaching the Un-Self Aware
By Steve Ellis
Lack of self-awareness in individuals can disrupt relationships and get in the way of building trust and foundations. Effective leaders need to tackle this head-on.
Great self-awareness — knowing who we are and how we’re seen- is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness. However, it’s in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. An HBR piece of research found that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.
At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues- people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across.
Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half. According to our research, other consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.
So how do we deal with these situations and is it possible to help the unaware see themselves more clearly?
What’s behind the tension?
When we’re having trouble working with someone, the problem isn’t always a lack of self-awareness on their part. Interpersonal conflict can arise from different priorities, incompatible communication styles, or a lack of trust.
To determine whether you’re truly dealing with an un-self-aware person, consider how others around them feel. Typically, if someone is unaware, there’s a consensus about their behavior (i.e., it won’t just be you). More specifically, HBR found several consistent behaviours of un-self-aware individuals:
They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.
Helping the unaware
Once you’ve determined someone suffers from a lack of self-awareness, it’s time to honestly assess whether they can be helped. Think about their intentions and whether they want to change. Have you seen them ask for a different perspective or welcome critical feedback? This suggests that it’s possible to help them become more self-aware.
What to do?
It’s easy to feel hopeless when you can’t help someone who is unaware. The good news is that although we can’t force insight on them, we can minimize their impact on us.
Mindfully reframe their behavior: The popular workplace practice of mindfulness can be an effective tool for dealing with the unaware. Specifically, noticing what we’re feeling in a given moment allows us to reframe the situation and be more resilient.
Find their humanity: As easy as it can be to forget, even the most unaware among us are still human. If we remember this, instead of flying off the handle when they’re behaving badly, we can recognize that, at the core, their unaware behavior is a sign that they are struggling. We can adopt the mindset of compassion without judgment.
Play the long game: When it comes to dealing with the unaware, one of the most important things to remember is that just because they’re that way now doesn’t mean they won’t change in the future. Unaware behaviors sometimes have to be pointed out multiple times before the feedback begins to stick.
The HBR research studied people who made dramatic, transformational improvements in their self-awareness. Though it takes courage, commitment, and humility, it is indeed possible—and whether or not the people around us choose to improve their self-awareness, we have complete control over the choice to improve ours. At the end of the day, perhaps that’s where our energy is best spent.