It’s no secret that self-awareness is essential if you want to be successful. Perhaps that’s why an overwhelming percentage of professionals — 95 percent, to be exact — believe they’re self-aware. In reality, only 10 percent to 15 percent actually merit the “self-aware” badge. That means there’s a strong probability you’re working with people who lack self-awareness.
What can you do to work more effectively with these people? Can you “enhance” their self-awareness, or should you focus on developing your own mental strength instead? Inflicting damage on a relationship isn’t ideal, particularly if the person won’t change, anyway.
But when someone lacks self-awareness, he’s not the only one who suffers — the people around him struggle, too. Here’s how you can overcome the problems caused by people who truly don’t know what they don’t know.
Lacking Self-Awareness or Just Exhibiting Bad Behavior?
First things first: Are you sure you’re actually working with people who aren’t self-aware? Is it possible some of your co-workers are just behaving badly?
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Additionally, is there tension between you due to a lack of communication? Do you have different priorities? Do you trust each other? Are your personalities polar opposites?
Before assuming that someone lacks self-awareness, take the time to really think about what’s behind the tension so you can address the root problem. It may be a simple fix, like asking him to not speak as loudly on the phone or asking to be moved to another area of the office. For more serious offenses, like harassing or bullying others, you need to address the issue with your superiors or HR.
If you want to know whether you’re working with someone who lacks self-awareness, begin by asking your colleagues how they feel about this specific individual. It’s important to ask in a curious way, seeking information about their experiences rather than gossip. In most cases, there’s a general consensus about a person’s behavior — you’re not the only one with a problem or concern.
Most employees who’ve worked with people lacking in self-awareness generally agree that their colleagues display the following behaviors:
- They don’t listen to others.
- They’re unwilling to give or receive feedback.
- Without realizing it, they’re hurtful to others.
- They can’t empathize with others or put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
- They’re more than willing to accept credit for successes, but they’re also quick to blame others for failure.
- They have an overblown opinion of their performance and how much they contribute.
- They aren’t able to “read a room” and change their message based on the audience.
However, the biggest giveaway is this: The unaware don’t know their weaknesses and shortcomings. Most of them want to be effective team members. Offensive office jerks know exactly what they’re doing and aren’t receptive to change. Those lacking self-awareness don’t even realize they’re offending others.
Dealing With an ‘Unaware’ Colleague
If you’ve determined you’re working with someone who isn’t self-aware, what steps can you take to survive working together on a daily basis?
Ask yourself, “Can he or she be helped?” It’s important to realize that while you can help people see the errors of their ways, the decision to change is theirs. That doesn’t mean you can’t impact their self-awareness, but accepting the limits of your own behavior is key to not creating a loop of lacking awareness.
Provide caring and honest feedback. Whether they want to change or not, you can still make them aware of their faults. Of course, there’s no need to belittle or harshly criticize people who lack self-awareness. Instead, discuss with them privately how their behavior is affecting others. By responsibly handling a conversation that impacts someone else, you’re modeling the behavior you want to see.
It’s also good to offer specific alternatives. Just imagine someone pulling you aside and telling you you’re creating a toxic workplace. You’d probably be a little hurt, even angry. “What exactly did I do to make working conditions so intolerable?” But if he came to you and said instead that you don’t handle criticism well and, as a result, get short with others, making collaboration challenging, you’d hear the message.
Focus on what you can control. While you may not be successful in controlling others’ behavior or emotions, you have control over how you react. Start by strengthening your own emotional intelligence. Become more mindful, and meditate when you’re stressed. While your co-worker may still lack self-awareness, you can keep your own emotions in check.
Develop Your Own Mental Toughness
Regardless of whether your unaware colleague is receptive to your suggestions, there’s always a chance that a new hire down the road will be equally unaware. It’s even possible you’ll have a bad day and become the problematic teammate yourself.
We’re all going to have to overcome obstacles and difficult situations. The only way to break through these roadblocks is by developing mental toughness. I’ve found the suggestions from LaRae Quy, who spent 23 years as a counterintelligence agent with the FBI, to be an excellent starting point.
Start by working on your own emotional awareness. Remain aware of your emotions, and walk yourself through ways to control your resulting reactions. With increased awareness, you’ll be able to better understand others’ emotions and anticipate or empathize with their perspective.
Get uncomfortable. This isn’t easy, but getting out of your comfort zone will help you grow as a person. Learn new information. Read as much as possible. Try new things, and learn from failure yourself. Eventually, you may notice that the little things that bothered you before weren’t really a big deal.
Focus. This is all about focusing your mental and physical energy to become successful. Begin by soliciting feedback, getting your ego in check, and keeping your goals in front of you. By focusing on the positive, you won’t get distracted by the negative.
Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. However, if you’re mentally tough and self-aware, these problems won’t fester into something worse. What’s more, you may possess the right qualities to inspire others to become more self-aware themselves.