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The Value of Self-awareness

By Daniel Boinski

For several millennia, people have realized the value of self-awareness. In fact, the Greek phrase, “gnothi sauton,” (know thyself) was a common saying as far back as at least 550 BC. For the last 40 years or so, the phrase, “know thyself” has been the foundation for all reputable leadership training. And, for the last 25 years, self-awareness has been the starting point for learning emotional intelligence.

Self-awareness can be defined many ways, and at the risk of sounding philosophical, it has many layers, too.

In his best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions.” My definition is a little simpler, but covers similar territory: “Perceive and assess our own emotions, desires and tendencies.”

The way that I teach it, a good starting point for knowing yourself includes understanding your behavioral style, which includes your strengths and weaknesses. This is not always easy! I remember when my first coach had me take a DISC Assessment almost 30 years ago. Among other things, it pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. On the outside I tried to look composed, but inside I was devastated! Right there on the paper it was saying I had weaknesses! I didn’t want weaknesses. I wanted only strengths.

As it turns out, simply knowing that you have strengths and weaknesses is just one level of self-awareness. It’s coming to grips with those weaknesses that takes you to a whole different level. By doing so, you develop not just self-awareness, you also gain self-acceptance by realizing that you are capable in some areas, and not as capable in others.

I’m being transparent with my story because I want you to understand how it works. Part of the reason that self-awareness is the cornerstone of the EQ model is that you develop some grace and mercy toward yourself. Then, when you own that – when you come to grips with accepting your own weaknesses – then you have a foundation for being able to display empathy toward others. And empathy is vital when practicing emotional intelligence.

I firmly believe that it’s hard to understand others in any real depth if you don’t have a gracious understanding and acceptance of your own strengths and weaknesses.

After behavioral style, another area we need to be aware of is our cognitive style – the strengths and weaknesses in how we notice and process information plus how we make decisions.

It’s also valuable to understand our personal motivations. Some are innate and some are learned, but motivations drive our behavior, and it’s good to be consciously aware of what drives us.

Remember, we can’t stop at just knowing these things about ourselves. The real value of self-awareness comes in accepting ourselves as we’ve been designed.

Bottom line, self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. When you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your behavioral, cognitive and motivational styles, then you can become a better self-manager. But that’s a topic for a different column.

– Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed., teaches teams and individuals how to use Emotional Intelligence, and his videos and blogs on that topic appear regularly at www.eqfactor.net. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at daniel@eqfactor.net or (208) 375-7606.

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