Friday, April 13, 2012

Self-Awareness and Other-Awareness

My good friend Jim De Piante wrote "The Other-Conscious in Public Speaking" published yesterday on PMI's Voices in Project Management. He argues that to be a successful public speaker you have to be other-conscious (meaning aware of your audience) and that in order to do that you have to be self-conscious (meaning aware of the impact you have on others). And in the end he asks "Does being self-conscious help you be other-conscious in all communications, not just public speaking?"
It's really not a matter of help, you must have to be self-aware to be other-aware, and this is why.


There's some theory to this, if you can call it so. Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" explain really well how this relation between the self-conscious and the other-conscious works. In a nutshell, the 7 habits are the following:
  • Independence or Self-Mastery. The first three habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e., self mastery):
    1. Be Proactive. Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life's principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow.
    2. Begin with the End in Mind. Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.
    3. Put First Things First. Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.
  • Interdependence. The next three have to do with interdependence (i.e., working with others):
    1. Think Win-Win. Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.
    2. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
    3. Synergize. Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.
  • Self Renewal. The last habit relates to self-rejuvenation:
    1. Sharpen the Saw. Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.
(from Wikipedia)

Independence and Interdependence

On a superficial analysis there's no connection between them so let's dig a bit further into these habits. There's something very basic that's necessary for the first 3 habits - to understand your own feelings (and so be self-conscious). I recall an example from Stephen Covey's book that illustrates this perfectly. Some people mistake feelings of frustration with hunger thus entering a fattening spiral: they get frustrated once, eat a lot because they thing they feel hungry, get fatter, feel frustrated because they're fatter and so they eat more because they think they're hungry. There's no breaking this spiral without recognizing the frustration as something different from being hungry. This may seem a bit far fetched if frustration and hunger are completely different things to you. But the exact same thing happens with pain and suffering: they're actually two different things...
But how are these habits connected with this? The fact is that you can only be proactive (habit no. 1) if you understand your own feelings. If you don't recognize your own feelings you cannot take responsibility for your choices. Just as the example above, you start eating not because you're hungry but because you feel frustrated.
The same is valid for habits no. 2 and 3: if you don't recognize your own feelings you can never have clear values and goals. It will be impossible for you to lose weight if you feel hungry whenever frustrated.
And the same goes for interdependence: you have to understand your own feelings first because that is a building block of independence (in Stephen Covey's sense) that in turn is necessary (as he explains very well) for interdependence.

So it goes for public speaking... it goes for anything else, really. It's hard for me to imagine a situation where you can be fully aware of others without being self-aware - please drop me a line if you do. But in particular, this is directly linked to team dynamics and so, as a project manager, you can benefit from it: you must be self-aware to be other-aware!

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