Are You Aware That You Lack Awareness?
Recently I took a very interesting training class. As part of that class, we had to sit still in the room for 8 minutes with our eyes closed and become aware of sensations in our body. How hard can that be right? Yep, it was easy. I was hungry, maybe a bit tired, and eventually fairly bored with this exercise so I was glad when it was over. I never really understood what that proved. Others in the class found deep sensations in their breathing, heart rate, even knee pain. I guess I'm in good shape because all I uncovered was that I was hungry.
A week later I had to take my daughter to the ankle doctor because she was having joint pain. While I was there I asked the doctor to take a look at my leg which hurt 6 months earlier whenever I went for a run but lately, since I haven't been running, it hasn't hurt. I thought that maybe he can let me know how to make it not hurt if I start running for exercise again. To my surprise, after he pushed on different parts of my shin and found places that were very painful, he told me I have a stress fracture, I absolutely shouldn't run, and if I continue to do any weight-bearing exercise I may break my leg. What?!! How could I have not seen this coming? In thinking back over the last few months, I did see how at times I really favored my other leg. But that seemed fairly insignificant especially given all the reasons why I need to use my leg. I'm a busy person, I can't afford downtime.
As I drove home from the doctor I realized how unaware I truly am. A week before, I sat in that training room for 8 whole minutes and never once considered that I had something going on in my leg, no pain, no throbbing, nothing. But maybe I did, and I learned how to ignore the pain so well that I couldn't even put it into my awareness when I tried.
How many other things am I unaware of? How many things are you unaware of? Do you know that we will conveniently build up a tolerance for things in order to make our lives easier? For me in this one example, it was leg pain. But it happens at work all the time, and it especially happens with managers all the time. Isn't it more convenient to make an announcement to your team and assume everyone understands your intention than to spend the time explaining yourself? Isn't it worse to get negative feedback that your statements landed poorly with your team (and you have to correct your messaging) than assume it landed well and move on? These are cases where someone who is unaware of their impact and how their statements are perceived won't be thinking about how they communicate, but they should be. They are taking the convenient, easy route of communicating as a manager instead of being aware of how messages are landing with people and stating clearly their intentions.
Good self-awareness means you can detect a problem early, especially if it is something that was said to your team or employee that was misunderstood. If left alone, it stays uncorrected and your employees make-up stories around your incorrect messaging. Before you know it, your good intentions mixed with lack of awareness turns into a stress fracture. Don't let it get to that. Be open and honest with yourself and with the people around you. Take a second (or even 8 minutes) to reflect on what you said today and how it may have landed on folks, and maybe tomorrow you should go back and re-explain yourself so that your intent is super clear. I know this was an interesting wake-up call for me and I have tried harder to be more aware.