On p. 32-33 of The Empathy Factor I write “…organizational effectiveness and vitality begins with a state of self-awareness.” Why is this true in my experience? The greater the level of individual self-awareness on a team, the higher the capacity those individual have in engaging productively with team members and other key audiences like customers. When you know what you value, what stresses you, what works for you on a team and why and how you want to contribute to your team, you are less likely to be triggered in a way that renders you nonproductive. You have a higher capacity for stress. And, when you are stressed or triggered by something going on within the team or with work, you have strategies to implement that will help get you back to your place of productivity in a way that works for you and the team.
So, what does self-awareness look like at work? For me, it means three things – that as people on a team or in an organization, we have both the willingness and skills to: 1. understand our strengths 2. identify our areas for improvement 3. recognize our impact on others. Different people have a range of willingness in these areas and even the same person can have a range of willingness depending on the topic or the day. Conduct a brief inventory with yourself right now. What’s your willingness to engage in these three areas? Lots, moderate, little, not at all? Do you regularly and systematically ask for feedback on how you contribute, perform? Do you want to know what people enjoy about the way you work and how to create more of this behavior? Do you want to know the “Top 3” ways in which people frequently find that it is not as easy to work with you?
Another name for this type of self-awareness is the process of self-empathy or self-connection where we connect to our own feelings and needs and continually learn about ourselves and our values at a deep level. On pages 137-138 of The Empathy Factor you can find methods for self-connection that lead to increased personal productivity.
Part of the willingness to increase your self-awareness is to actively seek out training in developing more skills in both giving and receiving direct, honest and helpful feedback that increases your connection with people rather than creating discomfort or separation. Self-awareness is not often the top priority for team members. For some because of their history with feedback interpreted as criticism, it can be painful to hear about personality traits or professional skill areas that others suggest you improve. When it comes to our strengths, we might be unaccustomed to expressing appreciations or verbalizing what is working. Unless you’ve had specific training on developing feedback, receiving feedback or giving feedback, most people inadvertently mistake their judgments, evaluations and interpretations as feedback. They can’t tell the difference between their opinion of something and their need to be heard about it versus true feedback.
In pages 158-160 of The Empathy Factor I write about how to give feedback based on the Nonviolent Communication process, which can contribute to greater likelihood that your feedback can be received as an act of support and connection instead of blame. On pages 146-148, I write about how to hear someone else’s criticism in a way that has less chance of us interpreting their words as self-blame.
Effectiveness at work comes from spending the least amount of time blaming others and ourselves and focusing on meeting more of our own needs and the needs of others instead. Whether you are a leader with structural power or a leader with informal social power in your workplace, your leadership is tied directly to your personal effectiveness and this in turn is born out of self-awareness and empathic self-connection. Spend time today getting to know yourself in the ways described above and make it a personal daily habit. In a few short months with consistent awareness, you may very well notice that your willingness and skills for self-awareness have grown and are contributing to your productivity in an enriching way. The empathy factor at work, works!