Ever feel like everyone else is the problem? Your “nightmare” boss drives you crazy with their constant interfering, and you find yourself rolling your eyes and saying something snide any time your annoying co-worker approaches your desk. If the stories you tell your partner when you get home at the end of the day are anything to go by, you’re surrounded by idiots. “If only I were in charge” you think, “I would do things completely differently.” But have you ever stopped to think about how you feature in the stories your boss or co-worker share with their friends after they’ve clocked off for the day? Have you ever considered that YOU might actually be the problem? Now, I get it. Those aren’t the most comfortable of questions to start off the New Year. However, with the buzz of NY resolutions in the air, January is the perfect time to reflect on the previous year, and to start asking those hard questions. It’s the perfect time to make a change. And if the above scenario is ringing a few bells for you, this might be the perfect time to question whether you’re being entirely fair to your boss or colleagues or whether your assumptions or biases might be altering your perception of the situation. It might just be time to question the impact your own behavior has on those around you.

The world’s best boss?

If you’re starting to panic about your possible lack of self-awareness in the workplace, take heart — it’s not just you! The research of organizational psychologist Dr Tasha Eurich, who defines self-awareness as “the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are, to determine how others see us and how we fit into the world”, revealed some sobering stats:

95% of people believe they are self-aware. Yet only 10-15% of people are actually self-aware.

Yikes! Those are some startling figures — and they’ve made me think of Michael Scott, the ineffectual manager from the television show, The Office. If you’ve never seen the show, google the character and you’ll find an image of him holding a white mug bearing the slogan, “World’s Best Boss”, a mug which he bought for himself. He’s rather proud of his mug: “people say I am the best boss…we have never worked at a place like this before. You are hilarious. You get the best out of us.” Yet in another scene we see a graph that his colleague Jim has created to show how Michael spends his time: 80% distracting others, 19% procrastinating, and 1% critical thinking. Jim explains that he had to inflate the 1% so that people could actually see it on the graph. This “World’s Best Boss” constantly prioritizes personal interests over work responsibilities and uses his colleagues as scapegoats for his own mistakes. Presumably why he had to buy his own mug! Hopefully you’re far more self-aware than Michael Scott, but it’s definitely worth considering where you’d fall in Dr Eurich’s stats; are you part of the 15% who are actually self-aware or are you more likely to join the 95% who only think they are?

How self-aware are you really?

Let’s do a little experiment. Have a think about the following questions and write down your answers.

  • What are the characteristics of the “best” boss or “best” co-worker you’ve worked with? What were they like? What made them the “best”?
  • What are the attributes of the “worst” boss or “worst” co-worker you’ve encountered? What characteristics made them the worst? What did they do that annoyed you, frustrated you, made you want to tell them what you really thought?

With your list complete, can you honestly say you’ve never exhibited any of the qualities you identified when answering the second question?

Internal self-awareness vs. external self-awareness.

Self-awareness is both internal and external. Internal self-awareness is questioning how you recognize your behaviors; it’s about understanding your strengths and your weaknesses. While external self-awareness focuses on understanding how others perceive you, and on being empathetic and embracing emotional intelligence to see the role you play in your interactions with your supervisor, your co-workers and perhaps those you manage. For me, one of the best ways to consider how others think, and feel, is to channel Dr. Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. She advocates for asking questions before making assumptions. So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and being courageous enough to ask those hard questions, I’m setting you some homework: 1: Ask a co-worker you trust to be honest with you (external self-awareness):

  • How do I contribute to the team or organization? What’s the best thing you see me do?
  • What do I do that detracts from our success?

2: Consider whether you’re asking yourself these questions as you approach your work (internal self-awareness):

  • What assumptions am I making?
  • How else could I think about this?
  • What are they thinking, feeling and wanting?

While these questions — and the answers they turn up — might take you a little out of your comfort zone, increasing your self-awareness this year will pay huge dividends as you improve your relationships with everyone around you. And hey, when your colleagues chip in to buy you that “World’s Best” mug, you’ll know they actually mean it! If you’re worried you’re more Michael Scott than “World’s Best”, we’re here to help. Get in touch to find out how we can support you in your leadership journey.