By Amy Blaschka
Recently while working at a coffee shop, a young stranger at the next table struck up a conversation with me. After our short exchange, he got up to leave, shook my hand, and gave me an amazing compliment: “I love your energy.”
Granted, we were talking about things I adore—communication and connection, emotional intelligence, and Brené Brown’s stance on vulnerability—and we quickly found common ground, so naturally, I was engaged and interested. Still, his words affirmed me in more ways than one. You see, I choose to enter into new conversations with a sense of wonder and curiosity. And by doing that, I’m projecting positive energy that registers with others—and is contagious.
You might be surprised to learn that my behavior is a result of my self-awareness, a virtuous yet often misunderstood skill.
Most think of self-awareness as knowing yourself. Self-aware leaders have a clear understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. They are honest about what they want, their skills, and what matters most to them. They also have an accurate perception of what sets them apart, and can then use their unique talents to magnify their impact in an environment that best suits them. Conversely, they also understand and acknowledge their blind spots and areas needing improvement.
But self-awareness is not just about knowing how you move through the world; it’s about knowing how your energy affects others. (Read: It’s not just about you.) This perspective allows you to understand that everything is connected—your interactions with other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your responses to them in the moment—and all can be enhanced through better self-awareness.
So even if you think you’re self-aware, you might be falling into the trap of being focused solely on yourself. This can happen to even the savviest leaders among us, but the good news is that we can avoid making a massive mistake with a few simple steps. Here’s how:
Don’t assume that you know how others perceive you.
What we think we’re projecting and how others are receiving our energy can be two very different things. To bridge the gap, seek the input of others. Ask trusted colleagues how you came across in a meeting, and if it wasn’t what you intended, don’t beat yourself up; be more mindful before your next gathering.
Press the pause button.
In our busy worlds, we tend to rush from one thing to another, managing our time in the name of efficiency and productivity. This kind of never-ending activity often leaves us feeling stressed, and we can’t help but bring that negativity with us in our interactions with others. But by regularly hitting the proverbial pause button, you’ll allow yourself a few moments to reset before moving on to your next meeting—and leave your stress behind.
Before you head into a team huddle, begin a pitch, or meet with a client, make a conscious choice about what energy you want to project and then do that. A huge part of self-awareness is being intentional about your state so you can positively affect others.
Hone your powers of observation.
How aware of you of others and your environment? The best way to increase your powers of observation is to pay attention. And spoiler alert, you can’t effectively do that when you’re multi-tasking. Get into the habit of putting down your phone and giving others your undivided attention. Listen to understand what they’re saying, instead of using that time to formulate what to say next. Be genuinely curious. And pay attention not only to their words but their body language. If something seems incongruent, there’s a high likelihood that something is amiss.
When you use these simple actions, you’ll become more selfless with your self-awareness, enhancing your communication and relationships with others.