Self Awareness ≠ Self Management


Years ago, I described myself as alarmingly self-aware. I was pretty pleased that I easily recognized and understood my emotions, and knew my triggers, motivations and what drives me. This extended to pretty solid intuition and ability to read others. Not perfect, but pretty good. I congratulated myself for my level of emotional intelligence. After all, self awareness is the foundation of all emotional intelligence.


Then one day I was gobsmacked by the realization that I didn’t use that self knowledge to guide my behavior in different situations. It finally occurred to me that self awareness does not equal self management.

"Our researcher can find that book. What did it smell like?"

Self awareness is the foundational building block of emotional and social competence. Yet it alone is not enough to successfully navigate the complex world of leading and working with others. Ultimately, recognizing your own internal composition without modifying your behavior to match the environment you operate in will stymie progress, lead to avoidable conflict and potentially lasting damage or complete failure. Being aware that you are both clumsy and can’t fly without stepping back from a steep ledge, could easily land you splat on the ground below.


Perhaps more relevant examples:


Self Awareness: Ben is a straight-shooter and proudly calls it like he sees it. He says, “I’m a no BS kind of guy. Some people can’t handle my direct way, and well…I am what I am. We just won’t get along.”


Self Awareness + Self Management: George is an extreme extrovert and loves commanding attention and blurting out his (usually) good ideas in meetings. Knowing that he is a big personality, he has developed the ability to temper his exuberance, pay attention to the amount of airtime he is taking, and draw out others to share their thoughts and opinions. “My colleagues are brilliant. Their talents and perspectives are different from mine, I’d be an idiot to steamroll over them.”


Self Awareness: When someone raises their voice and seems angry when talking to her or disagreeing with her, Kendra knows she has a tendency to shut down and just want to get out of the conversation. + Self Management: She has learned to not let her reaction show on her face, to take a deep breath, remind herself she is not responsible for the other person’s reaction, and get curious about the situation.


A practice to help build both self awareness and self management is Pause. Notice. Name.


Pause. When you are having an interaction that isn’t going quite the way you’d like, deliberately pause and take a slow deep breath. Inhale and exhale slowly. No need to exaggerate it, you can do this quietly.


Notice. Notice how you are holding yourself. Where is there any tightness in your body? What sensations do you feel? How are you experiencing the other person? What do you observe about them? What are you reacting to?


Name. Name the feelings, observations and reactions either to yourself, or share out loud with the other person.


Practicing Pause. Notice. Name. helps you develop your awareness of yourself, and yourself in relationship to others. Deliberately slowing down the action, taking the time to observe the many inputs to your experience, and finally attaching a name to that experience sets you up to choose what you do next. That’s self awareness + self management.