We know it when we see it. We say “she’s highly self-aware”, and we mean it as a compliment. We mean that person is able to take criticism,correct her mistakes and learn as she goes. We can work with that person, tell her what we think and expect a reasonable response.
Being self-aware is a strength. It’s a foundation for authenticity, for communication, for decision and for leadership. It’s also something that can be simply defined, learned and practiced.
Don’t Always Ask “Why?”
This is a trick, but it works: don’t ask “why?”. I know – we love to ask “why?”. It’s the most fundamental of questions, the one that gets us to the bottom of things, the root. If we don’t know “why”, then we don’t know what we’re doing.
So when we want to understand the reasons behind the behavior of a person, or team at work, we naturally ask: “why did that happen?”, “why is the report late?”, “why is the release buggy?”, “why is your team leaving early?”.
We get stuck. Somebody won’t listen – they just won’t. We’ve tried explaining what we want, why we think they’re wrong, what they should be doing better, and nothing happens, nothing changes. The decisions keep being delayed, the advice ignored, the obvious (to us) reality avoided.
Or there’s a problem, a big one: we’re about to be out of money, we’re definitely going to miss the deadline, our very best, world-class, go-to engineering lead is quitting. We’re going over a cliff. Tomorrow. And it feels inevitable, immovable – we can’t see another path.
Below The Surface
I discovered this very simple model of conversations a couple of months ago, and it’s proved useful in debugging some tricky interactions that have come up in coaching, so I thought I’d share it more widely. It’s a simplified version of a model described in Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business (and h/t Gordon for pointing it out).
When we’re talking about anything, there is an “It” – the ostensible subject of the conversation: the bug that needs fixing, or the code that needs writing, or the decision that needs making. The “It” is usually fairly objective and pretty well described. That’s what we think we’re talking about:
Two views of the same, very simple, conversation:
Team lead: we missed the deadline on Monday night.
Team lead (defensive): we had some issues with the offshore team
Boss: are they fixed now?
Team lead (defensive): almost
Boss: almost? why aren’t they fixed today?
The course is terrific. Here are a few reasons why (and, no, I’ve never worked at Facebook, or have any particular view about the FB culture):
- “One important thing… is that we all have bias. It’s just part of the human condition”. Lori Goler in the introduction.
This is a tremendously important, and fairly courageous, statement. It cuts the foundation out from one of the biggest reasons humans get themselves into trouble: the notion that “I am right”.
A (Short) Story
A long time ago, I had a meeting with my boss and the chief architect of the project we were working on. I was the project manager, and the subject of the meeting was how to finalize some decisions that had been up in the air for a while (too long, in my opinion, of course).
The meeting did not go well. I was furious with my colleague and showed it (and said it). Decisions weren’t made. The architect stormed out.
As I got up to leave, my boss said: “I knew you were going to do that. I could tell, the moment you sat down”.
At the time, I was shocked. What had he seen? Was I that obvious? I thought I had gone into the meeting with the simple notion that we should make some decisions quickly. Apparently, things were a bit more complicated.