While 95% of people believe they’re self-aware, in reality, just 10% to 15% actually are, according to a five-year research project by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich.
Eurich adds that it’s not difficult to spot your unaware colleagues at work. According to a survey of 467 U.S. working adults, 99% reported working with at least one person they’d describe as un-self-aware. These people were most often peers (73%), followed by direct reports (33%), bosses (32%), and clients (16%).
And people who lack self-awareness not only contribute to workplace stress, they also cut a team’s odds of success in half, according to a 2014 study.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Eurich shares how to deal with un-self-aware colleagues, including how to help them see themselves more clearly. She recommends the following three steps:
1: Diagnose the problem
Interpersonal conflict or stress in the workplace isn’t always caused by a lack of self-awareness, writes Eurich. So first, you must determine what you’re dealing with. Is your colleague actually un-self-aware? Or are there other factors—like lack of trust or incompatible communication—preventing you from effectively working with someone?
Eurich writes that most people who do lack self-awareness share a few consistent traits, such as difficulty accepting feedback or empathizing with others. Even more, if a person is truly un-self-aware, you won’t be the only one to notice.
2: Bring up the problem—or don’t
The next step is to think about how to approach your colleague—and whether to approach the person at all, writes Eurich. After all, Eurich’s research found that although 70% of people have tried to help their unaware colleagues improve, just 31% were successful.
Consider whether you’re the right person to bring up the issue. “For someone to truly be open to critical feedback, they must trust us—they must fundamentally believe that we have their best interests at heart,” writes Eurich.
Have you demonstrated in the past that you care about your colleague’s personal and professional growth? If your answer is no, you might be the wrong person to approach your colleague, advises Eurich.
Similarly, consider how power differences might affect your ability to deliver the information and be ready to accept the potential consequences of “help-gone-awry,” Eurich advises.
If you determine you’re the person for the job, confront your colleague in person, recommends Eurich. Rather than bringing up your colleague’s lack of self-awareness out of the blue, Eurich suggests practicing “strategic patience” and waiting until your colleague expresses feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction. Then, you can ask to make an observation about the situation “in the spirit of their success and wellbeing.”
3: Manage your own stress
If you’re unsuccessful in helping your colleague become more self-aware, you can still take steps to prevent the person from getting under your skin, notes Eurich. For example, you can minimize your colleague’s impact by mindfully reframing the situation. Or you can “adopt the mindset of compassion without judgment.” Whether or not your colleague gains self-awareness, you still have control over your own behaviors and emotions, adds Eurich.
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