Two managers enter an office party. On seeing the first manager, everyone groans, shrinks or tenses up, wondering who is about to be blamed for some problem or who is going to have their feelings hurt. However, noticing the second manager, people feel at ease and go over to greet him. What’s the difference between the two? In a word: awareness.
The first manager has no awareness. He is clueless and oblivious to the consequences of his actions and how they may affect others. He blunders through work and life, leaving a path littered with alienated and even openly hostile reports, coworkers and superiors. The second manager, on the other hand, is aware of how he and his actions are being received and uses that information for the benefit of not only himself but also of all those with whom he is in contact.
With awareness, life is less of a mystery and we are more in control. We more readily see into the future because we have taken the time to moderate our actions with others in mind. This contributes to being more at peace with ourselves and improves our attitude toward the world, making us better leaders, friends and partners. When we have awareness, we can read a room, motivate others and regulate our emotions. When we have awareness, we can open more doors and find ourselves welcome at many more parties.
What exactly is awareness?
Awareness refers to being aware of different facets of yourself, or rather, the self, others and your environment. These facets include the how and why of your behavior, traits, emotions and feelings. Awareness implies accepting and involving yourself in what goes on inside you, as well as around you.
I would argue that there are two categories of awareness: internal awareness and external awareness. Internal awareness refers to your understanding of yourself and your ability to appreciate your own thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors. External awareness is about understanding the way other people see you. External awareness is particularly helpful in developing empathy, defined as the ability to understand the emotions and share the feelings of others and one of the basic components of an effective leader and compassionate human being.
However the two—internal and external awareness—are related and involve the same basic skills of being able to emphasize (recognize, appreciate and attach importance to the feelings of others) and to sympathize (commiserate and share the hurt of harmful things) both with yourself and others.
Also, internal and external awareness help you recognize whether you are having intended or unintended impacts on others or on a group as a whole. It is almost like using a litmus test on every interaction you have. By being curious and collecting data you can recognize that impact and adjust right away, if needed. By cultivating awareness, you begin a process of acceptance, understanding and, if desired, change.
On the other hand, if someone is clueless, by definition he or she doesn’t know what’s going on. Being oblivious to their surroundings, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes and double down on failings and weaknesses. Those who go through life cluelessly will not fully appreciate the extent to which their thoughts, behaviors, emotions and feelings are connected. Nor are they likely to see the connection between these things and how they affect the world around them.
Why is awareness so important?
With heightened awareness, you can become more at peace with yourself, the world around you, and how you interact with it.
Those with higher than average emotional intelligence are more likely to be successful leaders because they have more awareness of themselves and others, self-management skills and social ease and facility. With emotional intelligence, people can better understand and motivate themselves, and others, and more successfully get on in the world, both professionally and personally.
How can you be more aware and less clueless?
There are several ways you can become more aware and less clueless, including:
Make a conscious effort to improve your awareness.Most people already believe they are aware, even many who clearly are not. However, the fact that you’ve come this far in reading this article suggests that you are ready and willing to improve your awareness. This is already a significant advantage over clueless people.
Challenge your assumptions. If you continue to believe and do things the way you have always done them, you stand little chance of becoming more aware. Only by examining and reexamining your thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors can you effectively reassess yourself and improve your awareness.
Ask for feedback. The opinions of others, even if they are sometimes contradictory, are crucial in helping you see yourself more clearly. The best people to help you in this regard are those who care about you and can be honest with you.
Do careful introspection. Introspection can help build your awareness but it must be constructive without pandering to underlying preconceptions, fears or negativity. To avoid negative thought patterns, focus on asking yourself "what" questions rather than "why" questions. When you ask yourself "why" questions, you can lose focus and invite extraneous considerations. However, when you ask "what" questions, you focus on gathering specific facts that you can use as a basis for action. For instance, instead of asking “Why did my boss give me a low rating on my performance review?” ask "What are the main reasons that my boss gave me a low-performance review rating?" Do what scientific researchers do and look for patterns and objective evidence.
Make time for self-analysis. While exercising caution with your introspection, take the time to do it right by setting aside time for journaling, meditating or just having some downtime to think and reflect.
Building self-awareness requires time, care and energy. However, you can do it. The results can help you be more confident, peaceful, insightful and better at understanding others. It’s an essential part of self-development that can help you achieve your personal development goals and learn to abide by the “platinum rule,” which is to treat people the way they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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