Just about the time I think I have the whole “self awareness” thing locked down, I get reminded it is an ongoing practice – a journey, not a destination. Sometimes my reminder comes in the form of a question like “Everything OK?” or worse “What’s your problem?!” (Truly, I rarely get that second one!) Sometimes quick eye-contact is enough to remind me, my words and actions can be misinterpreted and easily have a negative effect on the people around me.
The other day a combination of the two snapped me back to consciousness. We were about ¾ of the way through a workshop with a group of leaders, and the clients were on a break. My associate had just finished a section, and we were both standing at the front of the room. I was facing the back wall (back to the room), when I heard Kelsey say “Everything OK?” It took a few seconds for her question to register, but eventually I slowly turned my head and looked at her. Her facial expression dropped, went a bit blank actually, when we made eye contact and I flatly responded “Yeah, fine.”
There were three-to-four seconds of silence after that exchange – plenty of time for Kelsey’s amygdala to engage and send all kinds of crazy thoughts racing through her head.
She’s not happy…She must not like the way I presented that block…
Oh no! She’s upset with me… Disappointed with my presentation…”
By the fifth second, I’d guess, I realized my level of disengagement in the exchange, and clued-in to her visible level of discomfort or concern. My temporarily dormant self awareness skills kicked-in, allowing me to recognize I had inadvertently given her a terribly wrong impression. My regained level of self awareness moved me to expand on my previously flat “Yeah, fine.”
The truth was, she absolutely killed it with her presentation and I am so proud to have her as part of my team! At the same time, the other truth was I had a pounding headache and was feeling a little claustrophobic in the meeting room. I explained what was going on with me, and Kelsey’s fascial expression and demeanor instantly showed she was relieved; happy to know “it” wasn’t about her. (She also almost immediately expressed concern for how I was feeling too – her E.I. is off the charts!) Kelsey confirmed her immediate internal response to my body language, fascial expression, and verbal response, was quite similar to what I quoted above.
Self awareness is about understanding what you are feeling, and accurately assessing how you are perceived by others. Notice what is happening with the people around you. If you sense they have developed an impression or belief about you that is incorrect, or different than what you hope they have, fix it. To the extent it is appropriate, share what’s happening with you, along with the impression you do want them to have. None of us are mind readers, but we all will absolutely fill in the blanks every time there is an opportunity! Unfortunately, our go-to-blank-fillers are often negative.
If I hadn’t clued-in, Kelsey would likely have left feeling badly about a day she had every right to feel great about! Our thoughts, words, and actions impact the people around us. What we do and say, and how we do it and say it, matters. As leaders our impact has significant, often misinterpreted, consequences.
Pay attention to what’s going on with you, and how it is affecting the people around you. Cultivate your level of self awareness to help insure the messages you intend to send are the same as the messages being received.
Call or email us today to learn more about self awareness and importance of emotional intelligence at work.