Soft Skills: Communications and Self-Awareness

Good leadership depends on strong communications and self-awareness. It is a mindset and the foundation for developing and improving Soft Skills. How can we know what we need to work on if we are not aware?

My journey towards self-awareness started some years ago by trying to understand the kind of leader I am. My personal journey continues, and here is what I have learned so far about leadership and why communications and self-awareness are so critical.

Self-awareness becomes the foundation for developing and improving Soft Skills. How can we know what we need to work on if we are not aware? Take communications for example. If we tend to blindly rush ahead in our conversations, don’t stop to listen, miss body language signals because we are so focused on a result, then miscommunication happens, possibly even conflict.

However, if we become aware that this is how we tend to communicate and behave, and recognize the impact, we can then start to work on making a shift. Self-awareness leads to positive change, and in some cases, transformational change.

Self-awareness is a state of mind. It is something many of us actively pursue. I have come to understand that people pursue self-awareness for a variety of reasons, all of them valid. They may be seeking an answer to a challenge they are facing or reflecting on an event that has impacted them.

It occurs to me that there is a long history of this practice. Self-reflection is a major component of many belief systems, and the practice of self-discovery is an integral part of it. Without getting into the mystical, the practice of spending time in reflection brings the opportunity for a deeper understanding of one’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

We can only be assured of our own self-awareness. We can present this “state” to others, but we cannot know how others are feeling, their state of “self-awareness”, or what they are thinking unless they tell us. We can then attempt to judge for ourselves whether we want to accept what they are thinking or not. This in itself becomes a “self-awareness” action, as in doing so, we need to be aware of what we know and how we are “feeling” about the situation.

I tie self-awareness to emotional intelligence (EI) and the model designed by Sparrow and Knight (2006), which breaks EI down to Intrapersonal Intelligence (self-awareness and self-management) and Interpersonal Intelligence (other awareness and relationship management). As I teach in my Social Styles workshops, Know Yourself, Control Yourself, Know Others, Do Something for Others. Sparrow and Knight state that EI is the habitual practice of:

  • Using emotional information from ourselves to other people
  • Integrating it with our thinking
  • Using those actions to inform our decision making to help us get what we want from the immediate situation, and from life in general.

Chade-MengTan (2012) uses Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol as an example of someone with very low intrapersonal intelligence and describes how it took the intervention of three ghosts to raise his self-awareness. Raising self-awareness raises our EI. Although we don’t have the opportunity to have ghosts demonstrate to us the levels of our own self-awareness (thankfully), we do have other tools at our disposal, including formal 360 assessments and behavior profiles such as Tracom’s SOCIAL STYLE and Versatility profile. We can also solicit feedback from family and friends to check if our perception of ourselves matches how others see us. These tools can give us a start in increasing self-awareness.

As a coach, I often see my clients grasp a better understanding of the challenges they are facing. They get a better understanding of who they are and become more self-aware. I can actually see the moment of realization or recognition. The client’s body position shifts, facial features change, and often, they vocalize it in some way.

I help clients become more aware of themselves as I lead them into a deeper exploration of the challenges they may be facing. The technique I use with clients to help them become more self-aware is to journal. I ask them to articulate each day’s events and progress as a means of recording how they were “feeling”, how their body was reacting, getting them to recognize triggers, and then how to use them to achieve their desired changes.

This technique can be a process of days, weeks, or even longer, but over time, the act of just doing it raises self-awareness and leads to change. My role in that activity is to hold clients accountable to doing it and to ask the questions around what they learn and how they can use that learning to create sustainable self-awareness and change.

Download a free copy of What Are These Things Called Soft Skills? by John Whitehead.