Is Your Saw Sharp? Sharpen The Saw is the # 7th Habit in Stephen Covey’s bestselling book – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In explaining the 7th Habit, Covey tells the story of a wood cutter who spent hours sawing away at a tree. He was strained and exhausted. A young man walks up to him and asked him what he was doing. He responded- isn’t it obvious, I am cutting down the tree. The young man says- you look tired, why don’t you sharpen the saw. Why don’t you rest? The old man responded- I don’t have to sharpen my saw. I don’t have time to rest. I have to cut down this tree.
I don’t know about you, but I have shown up as this woodcutter in both my personal and professional life to the detriment to myself.
So, my question for you is- Are your that woodcutter? Do you need to sharpen your saw?
Watch This Video to Understand How You Can Keep Your Saw Sharp
How do you deal with the problems and complexities of love languages when you and your loved ones don’t express or receive love the same way?
According to Gary Chapman, “the 5 Love Languages are a simple and effective way to strengthen your connections, so you can experience greater joy and harmony in all of your relationships.” According to 5LoveLanguages.com, ” the premise of The 5 Love Languages™ book is quite simple: different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. By learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.”
This video is a conversation with my 11-year-old daughter where we discuss the five love languages and some of the problems, we experience in trying to express love and build and maintain positive, healthy and happy relationships.
Watch this video to learn about the 5 love languages, and some of the issues and problems that might arise when children and parents don’t speak the same love language and how we can deal with those problems and overcome them.
Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife4Real!
Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice in Wonderland-Lewis Carrol
Who Are You, is not the typical question many of us get asked daily, nor is Who Am I, a question many of us normally ask ourselves. Yet as simple and straight forward as these questions might seem, many people struggle to conceptualize and communicate a response that clearly expresses their self-concept/self-identity or how they see themselves. When asked the question-who are you, many of us go with the obvious responses that include sharing our name, job title, family relations, hobbies, religious beliefs, and cultural background. While these responses explain parts of our self -identity, they barely scratch the surface of who we are as individuals. The “who are you” question challenges us to, pause and think about our beliefs, perspectives, experiences, values and how we make sense of the world around us.
So, who are you and why should you care?
Understanding Self- Identity
How do you identify yourself?
Do you identify according to your job/skills?
Do you identify yourself according to your family relations?
Do you identify according to your feelings or your natural talents?
Do you identify according to you race or socio-economic status?
Encyclopedia.com defines “Self-identity refers to a person’s self-conception, or self-definition that people apply to themselves because of the structural role positions he or she occupies or a particular behavior he or she engages in regularly. Self-identities reflect the “labels people use to describe themselves” (Biddle, Bank, and Slavings 1987, p. 326).”
Based on this, there are no straightforward answers to the question of who we are. Since none of us are any one thing, our self-identity is just as complex as we are. Like onions, our self-identity has several different layers and can shift as we grow, mature, and evolve. Nonetheless, our self-identity affects how we show up and approach life, bounce back from hardships, work with others, develop and maintain relationships, make decisions, and navigate life challenges. And, understanding who we are, can help us cope with stress, improve work performance, and increase our overall psychological well-being.
What is Social Identity?
The societies we live in and our cultural backgrounds play a huge role in defining our self-concept/identity. And the concept of social identity offers us one of the best ways of developing a better understanding of who we are and how others experience us. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), defines social identity as “the labels that people use to categorize or identify themselves and/or others as members of specific groups.” Afterall, how we see ourselves influences how we interact with and treat others. And as organizations and workplaces become more diverse, understanding our social identity will also determines how we lead, manage and work with others.
Based on CCL research, our social identity is made up of three parts represented by concentric circles.
Given Identity: This is the outer ring which presents information about our ascribed characteristics for which we had no choice about. They include traits we received at birth such as name, nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, and personality and other physical descriptors such as height and age.
Chosen Identity: This second ring represents characteristics that you control, the choices you made and the skills you have. Examples of your given identity includes your career or occupational choices, religion, hobbies, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and relationship status etc.
Core Identity: The innermost ring signifies the qualities that make you unique. While some of these may change over your life, areas such as behaviors, values, and deep-seated beliefs remain constant.
Social Identity Example
Based on this social identity model, my given identity, includes being a 42 years old, 5ft. 6in. black woman who was born in Kingston, Jamaica to a teenage mom. I have two sisters and one brother. I’m extroverted, outgoing, assertive and love people. For my chosen identity, I am educated to the graduate level and have spent the last 18 years working as a learning and organizational development professional. I reside in USA and have dual citizenship. I am also a single mom to one beautiful daughter, a Christian and friend. I enjoy reading, writing, dancing, swimming, watching movies, great conversations and hanging out with friends. At my core, I believe God, I love people and I am passionate about learning. I value friendships, responsibility, consistency, communication, and love. And I am deeply committed to becoming a better version of myself and helping others so the same. So how about you?
And just as our social identities can change, some aspects of identity can be less or more noticeable depending on where we live. For example, when I lived in Jamaica, I never paid much attention to what being Jamaican meant. But, when I moved to the Northern Virginia area with a more diverse population, my identity as a Jamaican became increasingly significant. As I interacted with my new environment, I experienced a need to maintain my self-identity, while I sought to reinvent myself and to establish who I am and where I come from. Suddenly, my car had Jamaican plate holders and little flag, my ID lanyard at work was in Jamaican colors and I made sure to speak Patois more often than I ever did while living in Jamaica.
Challenges to Self Identity
So, what happens when who you are changes? That is, the way you see yourself and your identity is challenged.
Major life events such as migration, an accident, death, divorce, debilitating illness, and other hardships can fundamentally change aspects of our identities. These changes to identity may cause some people to question their WHY, lose their way, their sense of purpose and to struggle with how they see themselves as well with other people’s perceptions of them. In fact, studies by Harvard Business Review, reveal that transitional experiences, such as job changes or romantic breakups, typically decrease self-concept clarity.
When all is said and done, understanding our self-identity may help us to find commonalities with others around us, bolster our self-confidence and improve our overall self-awareness. In turn, this can improve our abilty to develop and maintain positive relationships, reduce communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. And best of all, knowing who we are can also enhance our capacity to deal with stress, adapt to change, be resilient and navigate life’s challenges. So, know thyself.
Until next time, Remember, ItsALearninglife!
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Imagine for a second that you were in a conversation, or an interview and you were asked the question- What is your WHY? How would you respond? Would your answer explain why you do your job or had taken that specific career path? When asked this question, most people immediately begin by talking about their work and sharing what their job is all about. If you did this, you would be wrong, but you’re not alone. The What is your WHY question,” is not meant to uncover why you do your job. Instead, it is intended to have you think about the deep-seated reason that motivates you to get out of bed each morning (not money). Your WHY speaks to the purpose for which you were created, the thing you are most passionate about, or the role or contribution you play in the lives of others and the world around you. So, what is your WHY?
Writing in his book ‘Start with Why’ Simon Sinek explains that, while every one of us has a WHY, a reason for being, not all of us know what it is, or are able to clearly or confidently articulate it. Sinek explains that, knowing your WHY, and being able to communicate it clearly, is a game changer and differentiator between highly successful and inspiring people and companies and their less successful or inspiring counterparts. He further adds that knowing our WHY, help us to wake up inspired to go to work and come home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled by the work we do. Knowing our WHY, provides us with the ability to inspire and influence people and enlist their support and loyalty. And the people who know their WHY, are driven by a purpose and a cause that enables them to push past their disappointments and mistakes to do what they believe they are called to do. Therefore, do you know your WHY?
Start with WHY!
In Start with Why, Sinek uses the “golden circle model” “to explain that every organization, every person regardless of their industry operates on three levels – what we do, how we do it and why we do it. What we do refers to our job/role, products, or services we sell. The how we do it is related to what makes us different from our competitors and stand out in the crowd.” Sinek (2017) argues that once you understand your WHY, the better able you will be to express what makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied, and to better understand what drives your behavior when you are at your best. Knowing your WHY enables you to be more intentional about the choices you make for your business, career, and your life. Knowing your WHY, allows you to work with purpose, and to do things on purpose, to achieve your goals and create the life you want or desire. And when you do that, Sinek explains that you will have a point of reference or road map for everything you do going forward.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for leading, learning, sharing and engaging with others. And when I look back at my life over the years, transitioning from childhood to young adulthood, whether it was student leadership, speech, drama or debating clubs, I can see many clear examples of me always being involved in activities that gave me many opportunities to influence others, use my voice, share ideas, and help others. While I didn’t always know my WHY, this passion led me to my first teaching opportunity where I tutored undergraduate students on campus while pursuing graduate studies. And it would later help me transition to my first professional role, where I facilitated adult learning with working professionals who were seeking to improve their knowledge and skills through lifelong learning, education and professional development.
Today my journey continues, and I know that my WHY is to “lead, learn, engage, and develop people wherever I go.” Therefore, I am passionate about helping people grow and develop to become a better version of themselves- personally and professionally. As a result, I use my skills, lessons, experiences to share insights and resources to help others navigate their own journeys towards personal and professional development and to impact their world for good. It is this bigger purpose that motivates me to write this Blog even when I doubt anyone will read it, or to start a YouTube channel even though I questioned if anyone would find the content useful.
It is also this same WHY that drives me to volunteer at my daughter’s school, at church, at work and to pay it forward and serve my community. And in my day job, this strong belief drives my commitment to working collaboratively with others, to continue to bravely ask the hard questions that challenges the status quo and to share ideas and suggestions for new initiatives (Even when they are not approved or implemented.) And at the end of the day, this bigger purpose helps me to find meaning and fulfillment in my life.
So, how can you find or discover your why?
Find Your Why!
To discover your WHY, the authors of Find Your WHY offers up several strategies that organizations, teams and individuals can use for their WHY discovery. For individuals, they suggest that you work with a partner (preferably not a loved one or friend) to follow the three-step process below to develop your WHY story that will help you discover and articulate your WHY:
Step 1- Gather Stories and Share them: According to the authors, “each of us has only one WHY. Our WHY is an origin story which we can develop by looking at the most significant experiences in our lives, the people who influenced us, the highs, and the lows to identify the patterns. Our WHY is not a statement about who we aspire to be, it expresses who we are when at our natural best. And this helps us to identify and play to our strengths (See previous post and video).
Step 2- Identify Themes: As you reflect on your defining life experiences and share your stories with your partner, notice the themes and insights about yourself about yourself that you may never have expressed before. As the process unfolds, the themes will get bigger and more important.
Step 3- Draft and Refine a Why Statement: According to the authors, your WHY story should culminate in a WHY statement that starts with TO________SO THAT___________. The first blank represents the contribution you make to the lives of others and the second blank represents the impact of your contributions. Your WHY statement should be simple, clear, actionable. It should also focus on the effect you will have on others and expressed in positive language that resonates with you. For example, my WHY statement is: To Lead, Learn, Engage and Develop People Wherever I Go, So Thatthey can grow and develop to become a better version of themselves (personally and professionally) and impact their world for good.
Finally, I have seen individuals struggle with feeling a lack of self-worth, direction, and fulfillment with their lives because they didn’t know their purpose or how to discover it. Knowing your purpose will help you to stay committed to your beliefs, focused on your goals when you face setbacks, or are struggling to find the motivation to continue. So, if you or someone you know is finding it difficult to determine their WHY, find someone to help you take the time to use the three steps mentioned to start your process of digging deep . The process will help you to uncover the moments when you have been at your best and the defining life experiences that shaped you and influenced the person you have become. And as you do so, I hope you find your WHY and discover a new and more powerful reason for getting out of bed each morning and leave a legacy you can be proud of.
Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife!
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Much like the soft skills debate, there is a seemingly never-ending debate about whether cognitive intelligence (IQ) or emotional intelligence (EQ/EI) matters more for your success. For a long time, IQ or book smarts has served as a key predictor for an individual’s success in life and to determine who is afforded opportunities and who is likely to be more effective on the job. Overtime, this bias towards cognitive intelligence has resulted in a perception that intelligence (IQ) matters more than its emotional intelligence counterpart. And this misguided approach has led many people to focus more on developing their intelligence (IQ) and to neglect or minimize the value of emotional intelligence (EQ)in their efforts to improve personally and professionally. But not so anymore.
An overwhelming amount of research suggests that “more real-world problems get solved with people skills than raw intelligence. That means you can get more bang for your self-improvement buck by focusing on EQ”. Google, also adds that “leaders with high emotional intelligence make better decisions”. “Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to read the environment around you, to grasp what other people want and need, what their strengths and weakness are; to remain unruffled by stress and to be the kind of person others want to be around” (Stein& Book 2011).
What is Emotional Intelligence?
According to the authors of Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, intelligence, or IQ “is the measure of an individual’s intellectual, analytical, logical and rational abilities. It gauges how readily you learn new things, focus on task and retain information, engage in a reasoning process and solve problems”. Simply put, your intelligence speaks to your capacity to carry out a specific activity, perform a technical skill and certain tasks. On the other hand, emotional intelligence can be defined as “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional informational in an effective and meaningful way”.
Therefore, your ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence will determine your ability to influence others, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and build and maintain healthy, positive, and productive relationships personally and professionally. In other words, your emotional intelligence or street smarts are key to how you live and operate in the world around you. People operating with high IQ and low EQ are like wrecking balls that can potentially damage or destroy everything and everyone in their path. By not being able to identify and manage their own emotions and to recognize and respond to the emotions of others, they create conflict and toxic environments which make it difficult for people to live and work with them.
Why is Emotional Intelligence Important at Work?
Over the last few years of the pandemic, we have seen a huge amount of change and disruptions in every area of our personal and professional lives. Now more than ever, many employees find themselves struggling to navigate the new emotional landscape at work and to cope with unprecedented levels of stress, burnout, uncertainty, and grief driven by the pandemic. The pressing need to constantly pivot and change the way we do business, work, or serve clients, have taken a physical and psychological toll on employees mental and emotional well-being. Today, many employees report feeling increasing levels of anxiety, unhappiness, social isolation, and fatigue.
To respond effectively to all these challenges in the environment, emotional intelligence matters individually and organizationally. For leaders in organizations, leading with emotional intelligence means communicating clearly and frequently to reduce uncertainty, having a pulse on what employees are feeling in response to change, determining what is motivating them or not and implementing strategies to support the emotional and mental well-being of their employees. Managing with emotional intelligence will require supervisors to be flexible with how they manage the performance of their direct reports who might be struggling with meeting deliverables and showing empathy to employees who are experiencing tough times.
On an individual level, having emotional intelligence will help an employee to build and maintain positive and healthy personal relationships with their co-workers, show care and empathy for each other, collaborate, work effectively in teams, solve problems effectively, cope with stress and navigate change. Employees with strong emotional intelligence, are more self-aware and better able to manage themselves and their emotions and set boundaries to protect their overall well-being.
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence Skills?
To build your emotional intelligence skills, it is important to understand the different dimensions of EQ. According to the Bar-On Model of emotional intelligence and social intelligence, EQ can be broken down into five dimensions and 15 characteristics summarized below:
Self-Perception: This refers to your ability to understand your emotions (emotional self-awareness), pursue self-improvement (self-actualization) and the extent to which you have confidence and respect yourself (self-regard).
Self-Expression: This speaks to your ability to be self-directed (independence), communicate your feelings and beliefs in a non-offensive way (assertiveness) and constructively express yourself (emotional expression).
Interpersonal: This focuses on your ability to form and maintain mutually satisfying relationships (interpersonal relationships), appreciate how othersfeel(empathy) and help others around you (social consciousness).
Decision Making: This includes your ability to be objective (reality testing), find solutions when emotions are involved (problem solving) and to delay or resist an impulse to act.
Stress Management: This deals with your ability to cope with stressful situations (stress management), overcome adversity, maintain a positive outlook on life(optimism) and to be adaptable with your thoughts and behaviors (flexibility).
One additional indicator of this emotional social intelligence model is – happiness. This measures the degree to which you feel content with your life, your ability to enjoy yourself and others and experience joy in a range of activities. Altogether, these elements represent what it means to be emotional intelligent and the skills you will need to demonstrate it. It is important to note that your performance in any one or combination of these dimensions can be stronger or higher than the others. The key here is to identify areas where you have gaps and work towards strengthening them.
So, how do you rate your emotional intelligence skills?
Which area (s) might you need to improve?
Where do you intend to start?
The good news is- emotional intelligence is a skill that you can develop and strengthen overtime. Your journey toward becoming emotional intelligent will need to start with an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, a recognition of your limitations and intentional efforts on your part to address them. Enlist the support of trusted friends, coworkers, and family members to provide you with feedback that will help you to identify the blind spots that might be affecting how you show up and impact others. When all is said and done, your emotional intelligence will determine the quality of your relationships at work and in your personal life, ability to bounce back and overcome adversity, manage stress, make decisions, and find meaning and satisfaction in your life.
So, when it comes to intelligence – Your EQ, not Your IQ Matters More! Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!
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If you look into the heart of your enemy, what would you find that would be different from your heart? Anonymous
Think of a time when you were going through a tough experience and someone showed you empathy. Whether it was a listening ear, their comforting presence or an act of kindness that made you feel seen and heard, we have all needed a helping hand to deal with with the pressures of life. In fact, the events of recent times have highlighted the need for us to show each other more empathy. But when you look at how divided we have become, the hate and intolerance we see in our societies, the suffering and hardships brought by the pandemic, as well as the plight of marginalized and minority communities, you might readily agree that we all need to be more empathetic in our personal and professional relationships and interactions.
What is Empathy?
In this post, I wanted to explore why empathy matters and how we can strengthen that muscle to get better at showing empathy to those around us. Let me begin by stating that empathy and sympathy are both important, but they are not one and the same. Research tells us that “Empathy is caring for others by trying to share in their feelings and experiences; sympathy is caring about them by feeling sorry for or concerned about them.”
For example, when a friend or colleague tells you that he/she has suffered the loss of a loved one, your most typical and immediate response is to offer your condolences to let them know that you are sorry for their loss. You might even go on to ask them if there is anything you can do to help. This is sympathy. Empathy goes beyond that and requires you to pause for a moment and imagine losing a loved one like that of the individual. Doing so would evoke a different level of emotions that would cause you to understand and get a real sense of pain that the other person is experiencing.
Empathy is feeling and allowing ourselves to walk in another’s persons shoes and trying to understand what they are feeling by tapping into those very emotions ourselves so that we can best connect with them and respond. With empathy, it is not so much about what you say in the moment, it is more about feeling the other person’s pain. Brene Brown, mostly widely recognized expert on the topic explains that the worst thing we can do to someone who is experiencing something painful is to try and make them feel better. What helps the person feel better is not our responses or trying to come up with the right words to say. Rather, it is the connection we make that helps the individual feel that we understand their pain. What brings the individual comfort is our presence. So, try to be there for the person and do not try to rationalize what is happening.
Why Empathy Matters?
There is a strong correlation between being resilient and empathy. In my last post I shared a personal experience with overcoming hardships and being resilient. A few readers reached out to express empathy and share how my story resonated with them and their own experiences. Their messages were encouraging and made me feel heard and understood. However, it is important to note that during that specific period and throughout the other difficult moments of both my personal and professional life, my ability to cope and push through was boosted by the people who showed me empathy with their presence, kindness, and support. In fact, I doubt I would have persevered through those difficult times without the support of family and friends who are like family. Empathy fuels resilience in us and in others.
The need to be empathetic and supportive of people also extends to every area of our personal and professional lives. Employers who want to have an engaged and productive workforce must listen to their employees. Managers also need to demonstrate concern and support for their people and not just their performance. Showing empathy to people who continue to balance the competing demands of working from home and those who are struggling to return to work amidst the ongoing pandemic is key to this. Additionally, couples without empathy for each other will see their relationships decline and fail. And parents also need to realize that children (young or old) have their own issues and we need to affirm them and make them feel special and seen.
The Struggle to Empathize
On a scale of 1-10, how empathetic are you? How do you treat others and their feelings? With this “everyone gets a trophy” generation, I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes struggle with feeling empathy for some people who describe their lives as “hard.” Growing up without both parents, I believe my life was hard since I had to learn very early how to be independent and to look out for myself. As a result, I do not have a lot of patience for anyone I perceive as lazy, entitled, and expect things to go their way. This is primarily because my perspective of a “hard life” is very different from their view of a “hard life”. Because of my perceptions, I am guilty of listening to people talking about their situations and thinking to myself- if that is all that is wrong with your life, your life is good.
Now I realize that I have a bias, and that this is not an empathetic response. None of us should assess or minimize another person’s experience based on our own. Everyone one is entitled to their own feelings. Their experience though different from mine might be just as hard for them. No one needs to have a ‘worse’ story to deserve our empathy and kindness. Both our experiences can be true. And so, I am now very intentional about not casting judgment and instead I try to understand where the other person is coming from.
Besides, showing empathy can be hard for some people. This is not because these people are cold, unkind or unfeeling but mostly because they might struggle with owning their emotions and even allowing themselves to feel their feelings. Our emotional well-being as children, how we were socialized, and our life experiences can later impact our ability to connect with others and even our ability to show ourselves empathy. So in their efforts to cope, some people might bury their feelings or dismiss them as distracting. This practice is unhealthy and can prove detrimental to their emotional health and well-being and negatively impact their ability to connect with others and form lasting and positive relationships.
Additionally, we live in a technological age where some people are more connected to their devices than to their own feelings. Some people have more intimate relationships with their smart phones and pets than they do with the people around them. In fact, people can be together in the same space and still find themselves feeling lonely because they believe no one understands them, sees them or cares about how they feel. This increases social isolation which can cause depression and other mental health issues. The struggle to express our feelings and connect with others become even more worrisome as we rely on emojis and emoticons to communicate our thoughts and feelings and stop verbalizing them. In so doing, we miss opportunities to open up, understand and support each other.
4 Ways to Show More Empathy
Empathy is a skill that we can all learn and develop and the more we practice it, the stronger the muscle becomes. Here are four ways that you can show more empathy and develop your skills to walk in other person’s shoes:
Suspend Judgement: Casting judgment is the fastest way to build walls and break connections in relationships. This especially true when one person seeks to impose their biases and assumptions on another. Instead of doing that, try to feel what the other person might be feeling and see the situation through their eyes. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Seek to Understand: It is easy to be kind to people you like and agree with. But, can you show kindness to someone who does not look like you or believe like you do? Rather than dismissing people whose perspectives and experiences might be different from yours, try asking questions to learn more and expand your point of view. We don’t have to agree to understand. Be curious!
Follow the “Platinum Rule’: Instead of the “golden rule” that says we should treat people the way we want to be treated, try the “platinum rule” that says we are to treat people the way they want to be treated. Afterall, no two people are the same. How I deal with hardships, my ability to be resilient (see last post) is different from another person’s capacity to cope.
Practice Active Listening: This is not listening to respond with all your ideas or suggestions. Active listening and empathetic listening requires you to pay attention to the person’s face, emotions, words and even to the things that they are not saying. Notice the emotions on their face, the tone of their voice (anger, excitement, the break in voice when someone is about the cry). Try to listen to the whole person and let the person know that you feel their pain.
In conclusion, empathy stirs up compassion in us and can move us to action so that we can help others. So, the next time you see someone struggling, flex your empathy muscle and try to see the situation from their eyes. When we do that, we will be another step closer to make our homes, communities, countries, and the world a better and kinder place to live.
Think about the first time you got behind the steering wheel to drive a car. You performed all the basic safety procedures to operate the vehicle safely and to keep you and other drivers safe on the road. As you drove off the vehicle, your instructor probably warned or reminded you to be careful and to check your blind spot. In driving, a blind spot is that the area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see from the driver’s seat. Every driver knows that, attempting to merge or change lanes without checking your blind spot is dangerous and can possibly lead to collision or a serious accident with another vehicle on the road.
The problem with blind spots
Just as with cars, all of us have blind spots. Blind spots refer to unrecognized areas of weaknesses that we all have, that can potentially harm our relationships, overall effectiveness, and chances for personal and professional success. The real issue with blind spots is that – most of us are walking around and interacting every day without any awareness and knowledge of what our blind spots are. And while some of us might be unaware of our blind spots, or may not even want to admit them, these behaviors are usually very obvious to the people around us- our friends, coworkers and family who observe and experience daily. So just as in driving, where we need to frequently check our mirrors for your blind spot, we need other people to “hold up the mirror for us.”
Another problem with blind spots that makes them hard to recognize is that- a blind spot could easily be related to a personality characteristic that we consider to be a strength. For example, people like me who describe themselves as assertive, confident and outgoing, can be easily be perceived by others as arrogant and ‘pushy’. A child that loves to organize and suggest the games she plays with her friends, can be viewed as “bossy.” A person who is reserved and cautious about risk might be seen as inflexible and not open to new ideas. This is because any strength that is overused or misused, can become a weakness. When we overuse a strength, what matters most is not what we intended, but the effects that our words or actions had on others. Perception then becomes the reality and can lead to situations where we are misunderstood, or we misunderstand others.
The importance of self-awareness
How well do you know yourself? According to Harvard Business Review, most people believe that they are self-aware, yet only 15-20% of people are. At its simplest, self-awareness is understanding and knowing one’s own feelings, personality, behaviors, and patterns. It is also a crucial aspect of developing our emotional intelligence. When we lack self-awareness, it can work against us and lead to people to make judgements about us, that are different from how we see ourselves. This disconnect can make it incredibly frustrating and difficult for us to build and maintain positive interpersonal relationships in both our personal and professional lives.
In the early days of my own career journey, self-awareness was perhaps my biggest pain point and blind spot. For me, the issue was not that I did not know my strengths and weaknesses. If you had asked me about those, I would have been able to quickly and frankly describe the things I did well and did not. Still, I was experiencing some interpersonal problems with a few of my coworkers that prevented us from getting along well. I had concluded that they did not like me and one day vented my frustrations to a friend, who was also a colleague. She patiently listened to my concerns. After I had finished, she explained to me that- as my friend she knew and understood me and my personality. Because of that, when I behaved in a particular way, she was never offended because she understood me and what my motives were.
However, she went on to share that whenever I was knowledgeable and passionate about something, I was very direct and assertive in communicating my opinions and ideas. She further explained that- this could be interpreted by others as intimidating, arrogant and that sometimes, I did come across “a bit too strongly.” I was surprised and shocked by her feedback and had a hard time accepting it. But deep down, I also trusted her and knew it was true. Her feedback certainly explained why- despite my best efforts I was not having the impact I wanted and was not working effectively with those members of the team. The feedback left me feeling confused and frustrated. How could my strengths- self-confidence, outgoing personality and assertiveness show up as a weakness? Her feedback had revealed a blind spot and I knew then that I would need to do some things differently.
The Johari Window
So how do you improve your self-awareness? In my previous post about feedback, I wrote about how many of us struggle to accept any information we believe to be negative or critical. The less open we are to receiving feedback, the more likely it is that we will lack self-awareness and be blindsided by our blind spots. One technique that could help us develop our self-awareness and minizine our blind spots is the Johari Window. The Johari Window (diagram below) breaks down self-awareness into two categories (Things known and unknown about you to other people and things known and unknown about you to yourself) and four areas: open, blind, hidden, and unknown.
The goal of the Johari Window is for us to improve our self-awareness by increasing the open area of our window by shrinking our blind, hidden, and unknown areas.
Open Area: In this area, you will find the information you know about yourself and others do. This is information that we voluntarily disclose and is usually public knowledge.
Blind Area: Here you will find information that you do not know about yourself, but others do. This is also the area where our blind spots live, and we rely on others to share this information with us.
Hidden Area: This area has information that you know about yourself and others do not. This include the things that you consider to be private or anything you believe will make you vulnerable to others.
Unknown Area: This area represents the things that are unknown to you and others. This is an area that is good for self-discovery and provide you with opportunities to learn a new skill or develop a new interest or hobby outside of our comfort zone.
While we get to decide how big or small the areas in our window are, the more we increase our open area, the more effective we become in our relationships at work at home. I know you might be thinking that you do not want people to know everything about you. Afterall, putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to others can be hard and risky. But, when we open ourselves to others and share our values, goals, and experiences, we build trust, forge stronger connections, and learn more about our own feeling and emotions. So as a next step, try the following tips to help you to continue to improve your self-awareness and minimize your blind spots
Start paying attention to yourself and notice your thinking, feelings, patterns and behaviors.
Build connections and relationships with people to help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Ask for feedback and be ready and willing to receive it and make the change(s) where necessary.
Be patient and compassionate with others even when their behaviors frustrate you. You might be looking at their blind spots, but yours are just as visible to others too. So, do not forget to check you blind spots.
Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!
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