Know yourself. Get a better job.

Knowing yourself can trump hard skills. If you want to get ahead in the workplace and even become a leader, self-awareness can be the most important skill of all. It’s part of getting smart emotionally.

Self-awareness is about having a deep understanding of our interests, values, skills, limitations, feelings and motives. People with self-awareness know the impact of their behaviour on others, says Dr Harold Hillman, psychologist, leadership coach, and author at Sigmoid Curve.

If you can crack self-awareness you can unlock your personal potential in the workplace and make better career choices. Self-aware employees are a real bonus and employers know it. Yet some of us know a lot less about ourselves than we think.

The irony, says Dr Dianne Gardner, psychology lecturer at Massey University, is that the people who worry about self-awareness are often the very same people who already have it. Those that don’t, have no idea there’s something missing.

To find out how good your self-awareness is, you need to take time to ponder certain questions, says Hillman. They can include whether you get bored easily, is your day structured around your biorhythms (the relationship between the physical, emotional and intellectual in people), and whether you require praise or are self-sufficient?

If this is all new to you, try asking yourself:

  • What motivates me?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • How do I manage conflict at work?
  • Can I handle criticism?
  • How do I cope with stress?
  • What triggers my stress?
  • What makes me feel good about myself and inspires me?
  • Am I easily unsettled?
  • Do I relate well to others?

What did that tell you? Do you know yourself well, or is there work to do? Whatever the case, there’s always room to boost your self-awareness. Additionally, it improves with age. Here are four tips:

  1. Try self-exploration. Analyse your past experiences, clarify your values, and get a better understanding of your own skills. Write down your answers. Persistent self-exploration helps people realise their true capacity, acknowledge areas of both personal and professional life that need improvement, and can lead to tremendous growth.
  2. Work with a career coach or mentor. A coach or mentor with skill and training can help you identify and work through areas of your self-awareness that you’re not so strong on, says Gardner. Mentoring allows you to bounce your thoughts off a trained professional, and potentially someone distinct from your existing circles.
  3. Reflect at the end of each day. Think about what has gone well and not so well, and the possible reasons for those outcomes, says Gardner. Then apply those learnings to your next day or week at work. These changes don’t need to occur overnight, apply them slowly, but be consistent, and it’s then you’ll see results.
  4. Ask for feedback from others. This will close the gap between how others see you and how you view yourself, says Hillman. You can do this informally or in your annual reviews.

Building great self-awareness isn’t easy for everyone. It takes time. But putting work into it really does pay off with personal satisfaction and career progression.

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