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Why is self-awareness important?

Authors: Roger R. Pearman and Robert W. Eichinger – Managing Partners


A recurrent finding is that life and career success increase as self-awareness increases—if you use the insight.

Why is self-awareness important? Because you have more control over what you attempt to do when you know the tools at your disposal. You know what you do well and what you don’t. You can deploy yourself fully against your goals and objectives. You can make life and career choices in alignment with your portfolio of characteristics. You know what to work on if you want more.

Another recurring finding is that many are not very self-aware, or at least their self-awareness is very limited.

In analysis of 360-degree feedback reports, self-assessment is the least connected to what’s being measured. Peers, Bosses and Direct Reports agree more closely with one another than with the individual self-ratings on whatever is being measured. Time after time, results show that the self-ratings are the least accurate assessor of self!  For that reason, so-called self-report is not accepted as the truth or fact. Others can describe you more accurately than you can describe yourself.

The research on the accuracy of self-report is that people are more accurate when rating their cognitive skills than they are their interpersonal skills.

Why is that important?  Effectiveness and success in life and career includes interacting with people up, down, sideways, inside and outside your organization. Lots of work requirements include clear and articulate communication and the necessity of influencing others. Effective networking supports many roles, tasks and jobs and the research suggests that mutual respect and trust play an important role.

Since the bigger gap is in the self-assessment of interpersonal impact, the question you need to answer is this: how do people experience me? What impact or what impression do I leave behind? How do others see me? Basically, it’s an emotional intelligence question.

Consider this analogy

Actors and actresses that consistently win awards are those that can play a complete character credibly to an audience. They become the person they are playing – heart, mind and soul. It’s much more than the dialog and the accent. There is presence (do they look, behave and act like the character they are playing?). There are non-verbals.  You’ll notice their voice tone, pace and volume. They control their facial expressions and posture. On cue, they can bring tears to emotional scenes, and more. These are all behavioral indicators the audience is reading to make the judgement of an authentic portrayal.

Great actors are aware of the total self, the good, the bad and the ugly and they can turn it on as soon as the camera is running.

The Complete Self

The complete self is made up, more or less, of interacting parts. There is the physical self. We have created a mirror to confirm what we look like, although many say they don’t like what they see in the mirror. Nonetheless, it is what other people see.

There is an episodic self: education, resume, accomplishments, skills, awards, hobbies, some likes and dislikes, and observable work habits.

Each individual has a values “bundle” which may or may not be visible depending upon how a person shares or demonstrates their values. These include values, beliefs, prejudices, suppositions, conscience, faith and goals. The values bundle can play an important part of leaving an impression and can range from very transparent to closely guarded. Any person’s values bundle can chill, enhance or be neutral to impacting others favorably. Disclosure is a choice.

NeuroLeadership and Self-Awareness

With apologies to any neurologists reading this, metaphorically, the mind or brain is made up of two different parts or operations or functions. One part is better known by self and the other is less known. Both parts are observed by others.

Freud called the two parts the Id and the Ego. Others have called the two parts fast and slow, system 1 and system 2, reflective and reactive, lower and upper, automatic and controlled, emotional and rational, or conscious and unconscious. Basically, these two parts drive what we are aware of and less aware of. We can be in awareness and out of awareness. The limbic system deals with emotion and memory and the pre-frontal cortex is central to complex thinking, decision-making and moderation of social behavior.

Also, generally out of awareness is the part of the brain that automatically operates body systems and a host of functions. For example, there is next to no awareness of the kidney making adjustments or to the liver changing how it filters toxins.

This out of awareness, automatic part of your brain operates under a set of principles.  Its goal is to scan for threat or harm and react to these signs. It does that with the fight or flight reaction – the sympathetic nervous system. It’s job is to keep the box it comes in from damage or harm and to seek out pleasure. The prime directive: avoid pain, get pleasure.

The brain’s danger-scanning accuracy is about 50%. It tends to over-estimate and over-react to threat. It is very conservative and cautious. It can read a stick as a snake and a fly as a bee.

It runs a large part of the non-verbal system. It controls heartbeat, blood pressure, endocrine flow, flushing, adrenalin, facial expressions, body posture (taking up a defensive or a welcoming stance), breathing, and it can impact output in terms of vocal tone, pace and volume.

Self-report mostly involves what I am aware of, in just half of my mind or brain. But what I do and say, how it is delivered and how I react is mostly controlled by the part of mind that is unconscious. I see my “ego ideal”–the person I think I am or want to be–but others around me see the whole person. They see what I intend to show plus what shows automatically. We have had multiple coaching engagements where the issue was that the leader was showing something negative through non-verbals while being truthfully unaware of it.

Feedback GraphicOne’s personal mirror is receiving feedback from trusted sources.

Feedback generally will not be offered unless solicited. Feedback can answer such questions as: How do I come off in stressful meetings? How do I react when criticized? What do I present when someone brings up a new idea? What do I look like when interacting with someone I don’t like? Do I accept others’ attempts to add value? Does it seem like I want to end meetings on my terms?

An internal mirror is Mindfulness. The many practices of Mindfulness involve introspection–looking inside for what’s going on mostly in the non-aware space. You can gain knowledge of what’s going on under the hood, and you can change how it impacts what you want to be doing and how you want to be seen.

Seeing the real you requires two parts. Self-report is only one part. Others see both parts—what you intend to show and what you are unaware that you show. That’s why self-ratings of interpersonal skills are the least accurate.

Why is self awareness important? Others see what you don’t see.
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