95% of people believe that they are self-aware, but in reality it’s only true for 10-15% of people. This is according to Tasha Eurich, an organisational psychologist who studies self-awareness, or our lack of it.
One of the reasons for this is that the human brain functions using a variety of unconscious biases, and is motivated by things we don’t always realise. For example, psychology has identified a number of unconscious biases, such as the ‘Halo effect’, where we assume that attractive people are smarter, kinder and more trustworthy than unattractive people. Another example is the conformity bias, where we are likely to provide the same answer to a question as the rest of the group, even if we initially disagreed. This phenomenon is fuelled by self-doubt and highlights the faulty thought processes we naturally experience.
Tasha Eurich suggests that the problem of self-awareness is actually getting worse. Society is becoming more self-absorbed, and less self-aware. This is a problem both personally and professionally, and no one is immune.
Why is it getting worse? Technology.
The technology bubble
The rise of technology is creating more bubbles, where people see a restricted view of realty and lose the ability to view things objectively. Social media algorithms are designed to show us comments and adverts that match our existing thoughts, ideas and biases. This problem has been highlighted in recent political news, but it is a problem for our workplaces too. These algorithms can make it even harder for businesses to reach their audiences, and unverified reviews can damage consumer trust.
Lacking self-awareness can have a detrimental effect on our ability to form relationships and build trust. If we don’t understand how we are perceived, our actions can become misconstrued. In a business setting, this can not only cause friction between teams but it can make it more difficult to hit targets, and can even reduce profitability. There have been many examples of a misunderstood social media post causing widespread offence, decreasing the popularity of a brand.
Tasha also suggests that the higher we make it up the corporate ladder, the less self-aware we become. She says: “What happens when you're at the top of the food chain, in particular, is the standards for performance are murkier. You are usually in a much more visible role and quite often people are afraid to speak truth to power.” This could explain the discord that frequently arises between executives and the rest of the workforce as people don’t share their real opinions with senior figures. This decreases self-awareness at the top, leaving them unaware of issues, making it easy to misunderstand how their actions affect others. Communication becomes significantly more difficult with widening gaps between perception and reality which can reduce employee productivity and morale.
Whilst social media and modern culture has given rise to higher levels of self-absorption, technology is not necessarily the enemy – it can also help.
Using technology to broaden our horizons
Technology can be used to help us increase our understanding of ourselves and those around us, by helping us to process data. For organisations, personality tests and effective feedback systems can allow you to gain more people data. This will provide a more objective view of the workforce and help to break the self-absorbed bubble. Using people analytics to spot trends and patterns will allow organisations to better understand their workforce. This will help to identify competencies and create training opportunities for future development, as well as boosting morale through improved employee engagement.
Daily check-ins are also an example of useful technology that can allow you to review your day, analysing successes and failures to build a picture on how to be more productive. The design of this type of technology forces people to stop, to think about their actions, and decide how they feel about it. This kind of self-care develops our understanding of ourselves, allowing us to find ways to improve – both personally and professionally.
People who are more self-aware benefit from performing better at work, are better communicators, and are more likely to be promoted. Therefore it is a win-win for organisations to help people become more self-aware in the workplace, understanding their own skills and areas to improve, as well as how other people see them, and how they fit into the larger organisational picture.
Our brains may be wired by unconscious thoughts, but we can practise self-awareness, to improve our ability to see the world more clearly. The first step is acknowledging that there is a problem, and being aware of a need to change.