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1 August 2022


Improve your self-awareness and know yourself better.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I recently said I would be looking at self-awareness, self-reflection and emotional intelligence this month and in fact, I am only looking at self-awareness and self-reflection.

This is because as I started to reflect on the topic, I became aware myself that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Attempting to shoehorn emotional intelligence in as well this month was beyond my capabilities, or at least beyond the word count of this blog. 

So, emotional intelligence is back on the list of hot coaching topics for a future date, when I will look at how self-awareness is one of the elements of emotional intelligence.

I like how BBC Bitesize defines self-awareness as being about knowing yourself: Do you know what you are good at, and what you are not so good at? What is your personality like? Do you worry a lot or not at all? Are you very neat and tidy and well organised or are you messy and lose things easily?

BBC bitesize’s target audience is school children, but I think it works just as well for adults and I particularly like the neat and tidy versus messy and lose things analogy.

Self-reflection is looking at yourself, your actions and your thoughts, as well as how others perceive you, to better understand how you show up and, in doing so, to improve your self-awareness and know yourself better.

If self-reflection is the process, then self-awareness is the outcome.

One of coaching’s fundamental principles is to facilitate the client in developing greater self-awareness, through reflecting on what they think and feel about themselves, as well as from what they hear as feedback from others. They may be exploring this around a specific coaching goal or bigger picture around their strengths and development areas, which may in turn identify their coaching goals.

This process is often called “holding up the mirror”; the coach facilitates the client to explore what they know about themselves and what feedback they receive from others. The client gets to look at themselves in “the mirror” and ask themselves, what do I recognise in myself, what is new to me, what do I need to explore further, what do I need to work on, what am I going to park, what do I disagree with and what feelings and emotions is this creating in me and why? It is classic Johari Window territory, exploring the four quadrants (Open area, Blindspot, Hidden area, Unknown area), that I shared in my earlier blog Self-limiting beliefs and Imposter syndrome.

The degree to which we self-reflect differs greatly, with some of us being very self-reflective and keeping journals of how the day went, what we learnt etc., while others spend no time self-reflecting at all. 

There is a happy mid-point in which you don’t tie yourself in knots, running over every decision you made in a day, but instead spend five minutes to think through what went well, how did I show up and what was learnt from the experience.

Whether you do this on the hoof throughout the day or at the end of the day is your call, but it is a good practice to develop if you are not already doing it. If you can get honest feedback from the people you interacted with throughout the day to add to your reflection, all the better. Remember it is not about beating yourself up, it is about the opportunity to learn how you can be even better next time.

For those people who don’t take time to self-reflect, a coaching experience can be a great way to be taken through the process and hopefully to recognise the benefits of such efforts and then be equipped to continue with self-reflective practice after the coaching finishes.

As coaching is fundamentally not an advice-giving service, the answer to a client’s challenge needs to be found within, facilitated by the coach.

A great coaching goal that demonstrates how this deep self-reflection facilitates new insight for the client is one that I use regularly in my work at Robert Walters (developed by some of my colleagues). 

The goal is called Developing your leadership brand.

It focuses on the client working through who they want to be as a leader. The approach asks such clients to explore their motivations, strengths, values, influences and purpose. This is all captured on a gingerbread man outline for the clients to then use to populate their leadership pyramid: Who they are, what they bring, the difference they wish to make and the reason why others will follow them. It is a great coaching session in which the client gets to step back and look at themselves and identify what it is they do well and how that fits together to make them the leader they are.

Another great technique, again from a Robert Walters colleague (thanks Karen!), is a simple self-reflection that can be used in the moment when you feel pressured to make a decision. It is called The Power of the pause and is simple.

Using this technique, at the point when you feel under pressure to make a decision:

  • Press pause on yourself
  • Check in on yourself, and think about what emotions and feelings you are experiencing at the moment (what are they driving and what is driving them?)
  • Ask yourself, do I need more time to make this decision (an hour/overnight)?
  • Restart.

So, what is the risk of not being self-aware and self-reflecting? 

Well, you risk not learning from your experiences and others' feedback and just repeating the same approaches whether they are effective or not. You also risk people stopping in their feedback if you do not hear or act on it.

If you aren’t asking yourself “How am I doing?” on multiple fronts how do you know you are going in the right direction, or even what the right direction is? Are you missing opportunities head down and full speed ahead? If so, take time to pause, look around, check your direction of travel and what is changing around you, as well as what adjustments you might want to make. 

As always, I hope you found this interesting and if it raises any questions, please get in touch.

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