In our last blog, I discussed the personal benefits of monitoring and correcting our own behavior in the workplace, illustrating ways in which a program of self-management can maximize insights gained through self-awareness.
I now want to take a step back and examine the substantive elements of self-awareness in the workplace. Simply saying, “I’m aware of what I’m doing,” is a good first step, but we also need a true understanding of our own behaviors and their effect on others. What does real self-awareness consist of, aside from focusing on the self?
Often, we can pinpoint what something is by describing what it isn’t. In a piece published in Forbes earlier this year, John Hall provides an excellent list of typical traits exhibited by individuals who are unaware of their unproductive influence in the workplace:
- They have idea bias, believing good ideas only come from them.
- Without realizing it, they say things that discourage people.
- They can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
- They have difficulty taking ownership of mistakes.
- They naturally become defensive with feedback or when somebody brings up challenging questions.
- They only surround themselves with people that agree with them.
- They have an overblown opinion of their performance and how they contribute.
- They aren’t able to adapt how they communicate based on their audience.
It’s difficult to read the list above without feeling that the hypothetical people it describes are purposely arrogant. If we’re being honest, however, we’ll likely admit to having lapsed into at least one or two of these qualities ourselves, particularly when our ambitions have previously yielded supervisor approval, promotions, or other professional achievements.
Who hasn’t felt at least a little defensive, for example, when receiving less-than-positive feedback—or frustrated with team members when they don’t immediately endorse our ideas? Most of us do fairly well at our jobs, and this capability would seem to affirm that we can “set and forget” our behavior. Plus, when we’re stressed or under a deadline, continually monitoring and modifying our behavior seems to take time away from our work!
While everyone, regardless of position or experience, can be susceptible to these tendencies, successful leaders need to be particularly vigilant when it comes to heading off bad habits. Leaders are less likely to have their ideas challenged by reports, and they’re more likely to view subsequent promotions and bonuses as a validation of their methods and behaviors. In many cases, they’re right, and self-confidence is a reliable key to success.
Yet self-assurance should not eclipse self-awareness. Part of true confidence is the ability to examine our own abilities and behaviors fearlessly and objectively—and recognize there’s always room for improvement. As a leader, you can model this open, flexible strength for the rest of the organization by doing one simple thing: When a problem arises, consider the possibility that you have contributed to it. Have you communicated clearly enough? Have you previously listened only to people who agree with you? Have you reacted strongly simply because you’ve met some resistance?
When difficulties arise in the workplace, it’s rarely because someone is intentionally being a jerk. Give others the benefit of the doubt by measuring your own behavior in a difficult situation against a list like the one above. Doing so before reacting negatively or criticizing others will go a long way toward building respectful interactions among your colleagues, clearer channels of communication, operational efficiency, and overall success.