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If you are a coaching apprentice, have studied coaching, or have an interest in coaching you will likely be aware that one of the fundamental skills of coaching is self-awareness. Once you appreciate the importance of self-awareness it is unsurprising that the focus of my first three months as a coaching apprentice has been self-awareness. There is a plethora of literature that discusses the importance of working on yourself to be an effective coach.
In this post, I will discuss my journey of self-awareness and how I moved from thinking I am self-aware to realizing I have plenty to do to truly appreciate the value of self-awareness. This post will cover:
- What is self-awareness
- The different types of self-awareness
- Ways to increase your self-awareness
- Why it is important
* Please note this post includes affiliate links. This means if you click the link and make a purchase I may receive a commission.
What is self-awareness?
I have studied self-awareness as part of my previous qualifications. Self-awareness was a module in its own right when I completed a foundation degree. It was part of my level 5 managers award too. However, the focus was very much on reflecting introspectively.
Goleman (2019), describes self-awareness as having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. People who have strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful (pp. 9-10).
The definition used by Goleman (2019) uses the term deep understanding. This feels of particular importance. It is more than an awareness of strengths and weaknesses and so on. A person who has a high level of self-awareness knows both how their feelings impact themselves and others. Eurich (2019) adds to this, stating that some researchers define self-awareness as a temporary state of self-consciousness.
Self-awareness is described as the first component of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2019). This demonstrates that to achieve emotional intelligence self-awareness must be truly appreciated and understood.
As a coaching apprentice, I found these definitions useful in deepening my understanding of what self-awareness means. This led me to want to further improve my self-awareness.
The different types of self-awareness
If you have already researched self-awareness you may know that Eurich (2019) identifies two types of self-awareness. These are internal self-awareness and external self-awareness. Internal self-awareness is similar to the definition given above. Research has shown that those who have high levels of self-awareness have higher job and relationship satisfaction, and happiness. External self-awareness is concerned with how you are viewed by others. People with high levels of external self-awareness are shown to have increased empathy and are more likely to listen to other people’s perspectives (Eurich, 2019).
However, in order to truly appreciate and realize the benefits of self-awareness you must have a good balance of both internal and external self-awareness. Highly self-aware people are known to focus on both types of self-awareness.
Internal self-awareness is a component I have considered, however reading about external self-awareness led to the realization that I do not actively seek external feedback to increase my external self-awareness. Reading Emotional Intelligence Self Awareness made me appreciate that I ask ‘why’ when asking ‘what’ is more useful and constructive. This is because ‘why’ invites negative thoughts and is focused on the past. When you introspect and ask ‘what’ you are objective, future-focused, and empowered.
Ways to increase your self-awareness
The more I have come to learn about self-awareness the more I have become motivated to increase it. When I appreciated that my external self-awareness was limited I was keen to increase it. I realized this was a weak point for me and although I have my own perception of how people see me I do not know how true this is. However, like others, the thought of asking someone for feedback was anxiety provoking. I did not want this to deter me so I set about researching feedback. This is when I came across Thanks for the Feedback written by Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen. This book has helped me to understand the importance of feedback-seeking behavior and receiving feedback well. Benefits include greater creativity, higher job satisfaction, faster adaptation to a new job or organization, and higher performance ratings.
Feedback is something I have always feared like many people probably do. When someone wants to give you feedback all kinds of worst-case scenarios likely run through your mind. However, reading Thanks for the Feedback has turned around my perception. This book also offers guidance regarding how to solicit negative feedback. As you may know from experience most people do not want to give negative feedback and may not know how to provide it in a useful manner. One tip is to tell your manager that you are working on yourself and if there was one thing you could do more like them what would it be? This is a useful way to solicit feedback without making anyone feel uncomfortable. When engaging in feedback-seeking behavior you must understand the three triggers of feedback covered in chapter one of the book. These are truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers. When you understand these you will begin to remove the barriers to receiving feedback well.
In addition to feedback-seeking behavior and receiving feedback well it is important to introspect correctly too. When reflecting it is important to use a recognised tool like Gibbs Reflective Cycle. I found this university website useful for structuring my reflections. In addition, feedback from my tutor helped me to realize that when reflecting on my feelings I would label them rather than describe them. This comment initially hit my identity trigger as I felt my self-awareness of my feelings was good. However, when I reflected upon this feedback I understood what my tutor meant and I used this as an opportunity to grow and recognize my feelings better.
If you would like to seek feedback and increase your external self-awareness the JOHARI Window Exercise can be a useful way to do this. Using this exercise you can increase your blind self quadrant using a list or pre-populated adjectives.
Why is self-awareness important?
Self-awareness wasn’t a new concept to me, as I am sure it isn’t for a lot of people. However, as a coaching apprentice, my appreciation and value of self-awareness have dramatically increased. I started as a coaching apprentice with numerous blind spots. I felt self-awareness was a formality. This further emphasized my nativity and lack of appreciation for self-awareness.
So, why does self-awareness matter? For a coach, self-awareness is a fundamental skill, therefore an obvious advantage of mastering this skill is being an effective coach. As a coach, we need to understand our values, our preconceptions, and our beliefs. If we take preconceptions into a coaching session we cannot be objective. Therefore it is important to recognize our preconceptions before a session. For me, I began to realize that my listening skills were not as good as I initially thought. When I focussed on my listening I realized that I would drift into my own thoughts, and become distracted by an email popping up on my screen or by a Teams notification. This could lead to me missing crucial information or asking a question that was not as relevant as I thought.
This highlights two reasons why self-awareness is important. Firstly, it has impacted my ability to follow the conversation. If you are not following the conversation your ability to ask effective questions is greatly reduced. This means in a coaching session you are doing the coachee a disjustice. In addition, if the other person picks up on this impacts your ability to build rapport. In a worst-case scenario, the person may think you are uninterested and close up. If this occurs the ability to coach the individual reduces significantly. In chapter seven of Brilliant Coaching, Starr (2017) highlights five key coaching skills.
- Build rapport or relationship
- Focused listening
- Effective questioning
- Flexible style of listening
- Constructive feedback
In my view, these skills are closely linked, by this, I mean you need focused listening to build rapport and ask effective questions. To be a good listener you must concentrate and pay attention to the person. This could be more challenging and tiring than you may realize. Starr (2017) refers to those who kind of listen as cosmetic listeners. This presents itself as a barrier to a coach. As explained by Starr (2017) good listeners build rapport and warmth more naturally, through their increased focus on other people (pg. 91). This highlights the significance of listening as a coach. In addition, it highlights the importance of self-awareness, understanding how focused your listening is, and what you can do to improve your listening. Starr (2017) covers the above five skills individually in Brilliant Coaching with a chapter for each skill.
The focus of this post was self-awareness and its importance. The importance has centered around coaching. However, you do not need to be a coach to work on yourself. Focused listening may benefit you in your work and personal life. You can develop your self-awareness by reflecting on how well you listen. Like me, do you find yourself drifting off into your own thoughts? When you become aware you do this you can quickly refocus back to focused listening.
If you want to further develop your listening skills you could practice present-moment-awareness available on page 94, Brilliant Coaching, Starr (2017). This book is great for those who want to find out more about the five skills above. Whether you aspire to be a coach, are already a coach or are keen on personal development this book is of great value. At the time of publication, this book is free with Kindle Unlimited which often has a 30-day free trial.
If you have enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about the topics discussed I recommend the below books available on Kindle.