Knowing and worrying about what others think of you are two different things. While it’s possible to put too much emphasis on the thoughts of others, knowing how you’re perceived can provide you with information you can use to grow and change.
“In the new world of work, it is critical to know how to read and interpret other people’s feelings and intentions so you can manage your informal interactions with them, developing self-awareness and awareness of others,” says Michelle P. King, author of How Work Works: The Subtle Science of Getting Ahead Without Losing Yourself. “When it comes to working life, what you see is not always what you get. You won’t be able to read a room until you have a good grasp on your own personality and how others perceive you.”
Understanding Your Impact
Self-awareness is about how you see yourself in terms of your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and the impact you have, King says. A Harvard Business Review study found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, when in fact only about 15% actually are.
“The challenge is that there’s often a gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us in terms of our impact,” she says. “For example, you may think you’ve done a great job on a presentation while other people may find the impact from your presentation to be not as positive as what you thought.”
There are three levels of self-awareness: overestimating, underestimating, and having a realistic understanding of your impact.
“If you’re an under-estimator, the great news is you can get there through objective and diverse feedback,” King says. “Regularly ask people what you do well and what you could do differently to more accurately perceive the positive impact your behavior has.”
If you tend to overestimate, it can be harder to change, King says, noting, “These tend to be people who are your competent jerks. They’re the people who are in a team meeting and are just not open to the feedback. They don’t take accountability for their behavior, and they’re not open to adjusting their behavior.”
If you are in the overestimating space, the fix is the same as if you were underestimating: Regularly collect objective feedback from a diverse range of sources.
Two strategies can help you build self-awareness. First, King recommends taking 15 minutes a day for 10 days to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what you could do differently.
“Ask ‘what’ questions rather than ‘why,’” she says. “When you ask ‘why’ questions, you start navel gazing. For example, ‘Why does my boss hate me?’ or ‘Why am I given negative feedback?’”
The second strategy involves seeking out regular feedback—but there’s a caveat. “The problem with feedback is that we tend to make it weird by formalizing it,” King says. “Then it can get really awkward.”
Instead, ask for comments in the moment. As you’re leaving your presentation, for example, ask your boss or a colleague the “what” questions. What do you think worked? What do you think I could do differently?
“See feedback as data,” King advises. “Look for any consistent themes. That’s going to help close that self-awareness gap.”
Why Self-Awareness is Critical
As more companies encourage employees to bring their authentic selves to work, knowing how you come across becomes increasingly important. Being yourself is not a license to behave however you want, King says.
“It’s not about coming to work, doing whatever you want, and not caring about your colleagues,” she says. “We need to demonstrate care by managing the impact our behavior has. It’s being your best self in terms of managing how you’re coming across.”
Genuine self-awareness is the starting point for building meaningful connections and can help you derive more meaning from work. “We have to look at how we’re showing up,” King says. “We’ve got to put the care back into work and recognize that starts with managing the impact our behaviors are having.”