Coaching People towards Self-Awareness
We all have blind spots! The way we perceive ourselves is not always the way others experience us. Most of the time, we are blissfully unaware of this distance and the impact is benign.Sometimes, however, the difference between our self-perception and the way others experience us is great and impacts relationships.
For example, I once led in a context where John (not his real name) saw himself as an outgoing, friendly, and well-liked group member with strong relationships with the team. He was unaware that team members found him overbearing and, at times, intrusive and overly familiar. I noticed that some team members were distancing themselves from John. He didn’t get their hints and continued to engage in behavior they found problematic, completely unaware. This was not abusive or harassing behavior. It was annoying and over time, even a grain of sand in your shoe becomes painful.
What do you do as a leader, when you notice the gulf between a team member’s self- perception and how they are being received – especially when it becomes problematic? CRITICAL: if this is abusive or harassing behavior follow your protocols for dealing with those situations! If it is more like a pebble in your shoe, here are three things to think about.
- It is not kind to withhold feedback that can help people grow. Sometimes, people do not want to risk raising issues like the one John was experiencing because they don’t want to be mean. You need to be tactful and kind in providing feedback, but don’t convince yourself that not saying anything is the kindest course of action. It’s not.
- John is more aware of this than you think. Sometimes the issue isn’t awareness as much as not knowing what to do. This can lead to doubling down on behaviors that are problematic in the hope that doing it better or more will improve things. In response, sometimes leaders build up the problem, raise their anxiety and, even, fail to address it out of fear. You can have a low-key conversation that leads to tip 3.
- Appropriate coaching can help! You aren’t trying to change John, or John’s personality, but raising awareness about how others perceive particular actions and some strategies for dealing with those. You can do this in a low-key coaching framework.
In my own leadership, I benefited from a good leader who coached me on the appropriate use of humor in our organization. Seems some people felt they couldn’t trust me or I wasn’t a serious leader because of how often I joked about things. Humor can be really important in helping an organization “right-size” challenges and build a sense of team. Humor can also be hurtful. I needed to learn the difference. Had Bob (his real name) not helped me close the distance between how I viewed myself and how some others received me, it would’ve hurt my leadership. I’m grateful that Bob took the risk of raising the issue.