Now that I have adult children who are in the “work world,” they frequently tell me about the highs and lows of their job experiences. Some have bosses who are managers and others have bosses who are leaders. Some struggle with the lack of communication throughout their organization, some enjoy their fellow co-workers more than others, and some are fortunate to have solid mentorship that enables them to grow in their fields.
There is one universal mantra that I find myself conveying to my adult kids as well as members of my team at my own organization that I feel will be a determinant of future success. I tell them that self-awareness is the key to doing well in the workplace – actually doing well everywhere, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on the workplace.
Through my own professional journey, I have learned the hard way just how critical this concept is to the success of working on a team, being an effective communicator, accepting a variety of assignments, taking risks, making mistakes, being a good supervisor, and ultimately an inspiring leader.
Finding others in a place of employment who possess emotional intelligence isn’t easy, even in helping professions where one might expect that this would be a given. It can be incredibly disillusioning, particularly for young professionals to encounter colleagues, supervisors, and leaders who do not value self-awareness or simply don’t seem to have the capacity for self-reflection.
What is this trait that sits at the core of one’s success? Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It is at times a painful process since knowing oneself involves an understanding of all parts of oneself, the qualities that are loved and admired and those that produce tremendous discomfort.
Knowing how one’s emotions inform their behavior can lead to strong working relationships with co-workers, and an ability to know one’s own workstyle and practice self-regulation, self-respect, and discipline when making decisions and working with others. It also can help a person know their own triggers, particularly in working with other personality types who work in ways they might find aggravating and unproductive. In the end, the ability to be self-aware almost always produces better outcomes and stronger connections to colleagues.
Knowing how to use this asset in the workplace in an appropriate way is a life-long process and is best accessed when one feels secure in who they are and comfortable with their shortcomings. As a social worker, in social work school students are taught about the concept of “use of self” when working with their clients. Knowing how and when to let a client know something personal about the clinician, solely for the therapeutic benefit of the client, takes practice and nuance. It can be a powerful tool if used appropriately in helping move a client in the right direction. It is self-awareness that propels this ability to use oneself and one’s experience effectively.
Having self-awareness also enhances the supervisory relationship. If one is the supervisor, this ability can not only enable a person to be comfortably transparent and open, but also can promote the same qualities in the supervisee. There is a bit more risk for the supervisee who is self-aware and reports to someone who is not and sadly, this is more common than people may think. One thing that supervisees can do in this situation is try to help their supervisor understand how they are feeling about certain situations. Asking a supervisor if you can share something with them is a good strategy to begin a conversation that gives an inside lens into how one is feeling. There are supervisors who demonstrate difficult behaviors that are not at all synonymous with leadership. They may be dogmatic, lack a filter, have poor boundaries, or more. In situations such as these, the reality is that supervisees may have to adapt to this style and find ways to manage it. Very tough to do but necessary if one doesn’t have other options. It goes without saying though that accessing HR is usually a good option as well if your organization’s HR roles involve coaching through challenging situations.
Back to my initial assertion… Self-awareness is a determinant of success. It is a life-long commitment that will lead to healthier relationships through an awareness of oneself and an awareness of others. All of us have worked with individuals who lack self-awareness, and my guess is that we have learned from it. Know yourself and a sense of accomplishment will follow.