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Post Date:06/19/2018
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Self-awareness is not a tangible skill you one can teach or learn in the way that we learn a new BIM software, or in the way we learn about the installation of prefabricated exterior panels.  Self-awareness is so intangible, and arguably even so fluid in it’s definition that even upon learning about it, you may not achieve it.  There are professional coaches who preach self-awareness as they display a lack of it in themselves.

What is the point of learning something that is so fluid, so arbitrary based on perception, and so difficult to identify?  Because it is a fundamental component of human communication and it can make or break your ability to pursue what it is that you want in your career and in your life.


Self-awareness could be described as the first cousin of listening.  Self-awareness is based largely on understanding others’ perception of you, thus it requires your awareness of not just your words, your actions, and your presentation…. but also, the reactions and non-verbal behaviors of those around you.

Your observation of someone’s tone in response to a question may give you a clue as to how they are feeling.  Someone’s sudden inability to look you in the eye may provide you with some understanding of that persons’ comfort level with the current topic of conversation or their engagement in the conversation.  The way they cross their arms, the volume of their voice, their posture – all these behaviors may reflect your own input and presence.


Aside from listening and observing others, self-awareness requires that we must be aware of our own level of comfort in any setting.  Are we making eye contact?  Are we speaking quickly?  Are we interrupting?  Are we standing or sitting in a way that shows us as closed off or inviting?  Are we fully engaged and aware of the people we are conversing with, or are we distracted?  The goal, of course, is not to ask yourself all these questions during a conversation, but to achieve these self-awareness metrics by eventual muscle memory.

Begin with trying to flag yourself for interrupting people but focus only on that.  Eventually, you will get better at not interrupting, and then you can move onto how your posture and physical presence is during a difficult conversation.  Then you can move onto nuances in how you answer questions by acknowledging what the other people in the room have stated.  And so on.


We are largely on our own when it comes to learning about how we present in life.  People are polite.  Or perhaps the more cynical but appropriate way to phrase such a statement is that people tend to avoid conflict.

It is unlikely you have always received clear and transparent feedback from your peers, supervisors, your neighbors, sometimes even your family and friends.  Because most of us are not excellent at receiving critical feedback, or because most of us fear that critical feedback almost always elicits negative reactions, very few of us tend to hear how it is that we impact the people around us.

How often is the hoarder of responsibility in the office told they take on too much, not allowing the rest of the group to grow?  How often is the employee who talks way too much and for way too long told that they are too chatty?   How often is the boss who makes bad business decisions told that she makes bad business decisions?  How often is the guy who sends long emails way too often told he would benefit from some amount of brevity.  Not often enough.


Spreading the concept of self-awareness requires a delicate balance.  Its easy to describe it in an essay or article like this one.  It is eons more difficult to provide honest feedback one on one.  If you are having trouble considering that someone might benefit from constructive feedback, just remember the age-old sentiment that a real friend is the one who points out the stain on your shirt or the nose hair you missed.

People do tend to avoid what they fear may be considered an insult and will even rationalize ways to avoid the subject.  Even if you have a nose hair sticking out, they may think…. well I’m sure they know about it and just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Or they may say, well I’m sure they know they have a stain on their shirt, why would I embarrass them any further.

The exception to conflict adverse humans may be in those who lack empathy, who may often be described as having no tact, or missing the chromosome that allows them to understand what hurts people’s feelings.  Sometimes, those are the people who become leaders..  These are the people who are honest “to a fault’ we say, but who sacrifice likeability for transparency and perhaps even evolution of their fellow friends or workers.


If you have a friend who interrupts people too often, tell them.  Not only will it help them, but it will open the floodgates of clear communication.  You will almost certainly receive constructive criticism from that same person within the next week.  Sure it may be founded partially in vengeance, but it will also be constructive, and you may find out of the first time, that you are …a mouth breather or a close talker…. or both!  Better to know than to not know, right?  Then you have the choice of changing or not.

The key to self-awareness is not changing who you are but knowing who you are and how you present to others.  Once you have that knowledge you may choose to change some things and keep others the same.

The best kind of Self-Awareness is “well informed self-confidence.”


David Cone-Gorham is owner of NYCM Search, a talent acquisition agency in downtown Brooklyn, focused on the Real Estate and AEC Industry.  He also sits on the Board of Trustees at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and the Board of Directors at the Montessori Day School of Brooklyn, and is an active PTA participant at PS 705. 



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