By the time we’ve been in the workforce a couple years, most of us begin to get solicited and unsolicited feedback on our personal behavior. Sometimes it’s painful, but sometimes it’s wonderful. Recently, I chuckled over the fact that when one Gen-Yer left a firm to go to another, he heard some marvelous words: he was being referred to as the “golden boy.” That was great for his ego, especially since he was unaware of how many of his colleagues from his last firm saw him.
That experience, however, illustrates a very important point. Very few of us have a rich understanding of self-awareness. Instead, it’s a chimera: a fantasy, built on delusion or just plain ignorance. Yet, self-awareness colors all the messages we send, profoundly affecting the conversations and the way we communicate with others.
The obvious implication of this is that the more self-awareness, the better we’re able to send effective messages and engage in successful conversations. In short, our needs, which are the bricks and mortar of self-awareness, are inevitably front and center in our awareness. So it’s safe to say
Not so obvious, however, is why understanding our own needs is so very difficult. There are lots of reasons why analyzing our needs and building a rich self-awareness are often mere chimera, an illusion or a personal fabrication. At the heart of this problem are four:
- Needs change from situation to situation and from time to time. Candidly, we are not a single, real self, but a changing composite of many selves. When someone tells you try to understand the real self, ignore them. There is no such thing. Indeed, when you peel back the onion to try to understand your true self, eventually you get to reality. There’s nothing there. Different selves relate to our manager than relate to our colleagues or our lover. Sometimes our lack of awareness of our needs is because we’re not paying attention to the cycles or rhythms of life, but sometimes it’s because we’re not paying attention to what fatigue and stress have done to us.
- We may want to repress our needs. We may not, for example, want to face the fact that we are often submissive and usually enjoy it. Or we may not want to admit that our career is at a dead-end, or that we’re going to have to make a lot of changes to lose the forty pounds we’ve gained over the last five years. Or, as a close friend of mine commented to me when I gained a lot of weight over the emotions of my wife’s Alzheimer’s, “It kinda slipped up on you, didn’t it?” Though repression can be satisfying, it’s rarely healthy.
- We may distort one strength to fulfill our need for self-esteem. For example, over-achievers may believe that their success is solely because of their ability, whereas, in fact, luck played a huge part in their achievements. In business, we often find some who are quite certain that they are very talented at understanding another’s rationale for decisions, but research has consistently shown that decisions are inevitably made for a number of both conscious and unconscious reasons.
- We may avoid getting feedback about our own personal needs. Certainly, receiving feedback can be very difficult. But some take themselves out of situations where they might receive feedback or reject feedback as biased, or even deny feedback out of hand. People who are both willing and able to discuss their needs with colleagues understand them better—and are thus able to build better awareness. And, communicate far more effectively in the varied situations of life and work.
Numerous communicator characteristic influence the conversations and messages exchanged in business. But our self-awareness—that understanding of our own needs—forms the root system for the most visible competencies. Our individual needs play havoc—or greatly enhance our skills of listening, role-taking, role-playing, motivation, adaptability and entrepreneurship.
Flick.com: photo by seewhy