Do you ever feel like people you work with are not listening or they just flat out don't understand? I recently spoke at an online virtual event and spoke about an incredible tool that helps people understand how they are perceived and then more importantly; how to customize the message the way others need to hear it based on their personality.
Even though self-awareness (knowing who we are and how we’re seen) is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness, it’s in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. In a recent study I was reading about, business Harvard students have discovered that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.
At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues (people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across). Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half. According to our research, other consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.
So how do we deal with these situations? Is it possible to help the unaware see themselves more clearly? And if we can’t, what can we do to minimize their damage on our success and happiness?
Not all badly-behaving colleagues suffer from a lack of self-awareness, and not all who do can be helped. Therefore, you must first determine whether the source of the problem is truly someone’s lack of self-awareness.
Ask yourself: What’s behind the tension?
When we’re having trouble working with someone, the problem isn’t always a lack of self-awareness on their part. Interpersonal conflict can arise from different priorities, incompatible communication styles, or a lack of trust.
To determine whether you’re truly dealing with an un-self-aware person, consider how others around them feel. Typically, if someone is unaware, there’s a consensus about their behavior (i.e., it won’t just be you). More specifically, we’ve found several consistent behaviors of un-self-aware individuals:
- They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
- They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
- They have difficulty “reading a room” and customizing their message to their audience.
- They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
- They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
- They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.
Where is this person coming from?
In contrast to the unaware, certain difficult colleagues, like office jerks, know exactly what they're doing, but aren’t willing to change.
We once has a client that had a reputation for scaring people off. You would think with the high turnover he could stop and take a look at his leadership style. That client relationship did not work out long term due to the lack of implementing. Why hire a consultant and then not do what we know works blows my mind.
The biggest difference between the unaware and the Aware-Don’t-Care are their intentions: the unaware genuinely want to be collaborative and effective, but don’t know they’re falling short. Whereas the Aware-Don’t-Care unapologetically acknowledge their behavior (“Of course I’m pushy with clients. It’s the only way to make the sale!”), the unaware can’t see how they’re showing up (“That client meeting went well!”).
So, can we help save the unaware? How patient are you!?
Once you’ve determined someone suffers from a lack of self-awareness, it’s time to honestly assess whether they can be helped. Think about their intentions and whether they’d want to change. Have you seen them ask for a different perspective or welcome critical feedback? This suggests that it’s possible to help them become more self-aware.
But the odds can be steep. So before you step in, ask yourself: Am I the right messenger?
It’s true that when helping the unaware, providing good, constructive feedback only gets us part of the way. For someone to truly be open to critical feedback, they must trust you. They must fundamentally believe that you have their best interests at heart. When trust is present, the other person will feel more comfortable being vulnerable, a prerequisite to accept one’s unaware behavior.
So think about the relationship you have with your unaware co worker or team member: have you gone out of your way to help or support them in the past? And are you confident they will see your feedback for what it is, a show of support to help them get better, rather than inferring a more nefarious motive? Or, are there others who might be better suited to deliver the feedback than you?
If you believe you can help, then what’s the best way to do so? There are certainly many helpful resources on providing high-quality feedback, and most apply with the unaware. So be sure you customize your message the way they need to hear it.