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A Practical Way to Cultivate Self-Awareness in Yourself and Others

Many engineers have great tech skills but see their careers hit a roadblock when they’re unable to pull the self-awareness necessary to grow further.

I’ve encountered many such engineers in my career and tried to help as best I could. I wish I could say I was successful at it, but generally, the effects of my feedback would last for a few weeks, and then those people would surely fall back into their usual bad habits and triggers.

Last week, I found an interview with Esther Perel, and it’s been a real game-changer for me. Perel is a psychotherapist and shared advice on the topic, which for once was practical and directly applicable.

The bottom line is: it’s useless to talk about self-awareness to someone who lacks it.

Instead, ask questions about the behaviors and symptoms expressed by self-awareness. Then, make the person reflect on the behaviors mentioned in those answers. Rinse, repeat, profit.

Check out Episode #57 of The Prof G Show, Perel’s interview starts at 14″30. The part about self-awareness starts at 36″00 and includes a ton of example questions you can use in one-on-ones.

You can also use those questions to do self-reflection and audit your own level of self-awareness, and develop it further. Although, you should ask for help from someone you trust, because having an external point of view on the matter always helps.

I’ve noted down those questions shared by Perel for later use. Keep in mind that you should adjust them to your own tone of voice, and to the personality of the person you’re addressing:

  • How have you dealt with your previous breakups?
    • All the people you were involved with are impacting how you deal with relationships
  • When you are upset, and if I had the power to see what’s happening inside but nobody else can see it, what are your internal voices and how do you speak to yourself? And how are those voices speaking to others?
    • Upset could mean when you’re angry, when you’re hurt, when you need something.
  • When you need something, how good are you at expressing your needs? Tell me about you when you express your needs.
  • What could I learn from you in how you apologize? Or you don’t apologize.
  • How are you able to deal with your mistakes, or with other people’s mistakes?
  • Do yo tend to be someone who takes things on you, and you make yourself the center and you say it’s my fault? Or do you tend to be an externalizer, in that there are always reasons for the way things happened but they never have to do with you?
  • Tell me of a time when you braved the unknown.
  • Describe a time when you changed your mind.
    • Look at flexibility vs. rigidity.
  • What is something that you wouldn’t want your mother to know about you? Or your best friends to know about you?
  • What’s the best prank that you’ve ever pulled on someone?
  • What was a time when you surprised even yourself?
  • If there was one thing in your personality that you would want me to know, what would it be?
  • If there was one thing in your personality that you would want to change, what would it be?

Perel also mentions that as the questioner, you don’t say those things as bluntly, but these are the things you’re looking at. You never use the word “self-awareness,” but you ask dozens of questions that give you insights into how the person is in their relational self.

Perel also says you should look at the relational self, not just the inner self, as she believes self-awareness is knowing oneself in relation to others, as well as to yourself.

Finally here are two articles with more questions you can draw inspiration from:

And a couple of other interesting resources about developing self-awareness:

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Photo credit: Intricate Explorer on Unsplash.

Published inLeadership and Management

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