Accurately perceiving your own and others’ emotions.
Accurately perceiving emotions in self and others is only possible if you are self-aware. Self-awareness develops through a truthful self-assessment of your strengths, weaknesses (competencies or behaviour which can be improved on), limits (areas which are difficult or impossible to change because they go against your values, identity or sense of purpose), needs and drives, goals and values (where you are headed and why). An individual can be little aware of the emotions of others if he or she does not have an accurate view of his or her own emotions. Developing self-awareness takes intellectual honesty and actively seeking the truth.
One method that facilitates the development self-awareness is called building narrative identity. This applies to a person’s internalised and evolving life story, integrating the reconstructed past and imagined future to provide life with some degree of unity and purpose. Psychology professor Dan P. McAdams from Northwestern University explains that:
The stories we tell ourselves about our lives don’t just shape our personalities – they are our personalities.
Every person lies to him or to herself to a certain extent. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said:
Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.
However, if you want to become self-aware, and this is essential for being able to lead others effectively and for the long haul, you need to be as honest as possible with yourself about the stories you tell yourself. For the purpose of building self-awareness and recognizing your patterns, consider the following questions:
- Which experiences have forged you?
- Who has had an impact on you?
- How do you deal with challenges?
- Do you blame others and see yourself as a victim that was hard done by?
- Do you take responsibility for your life and choices?
- Do you accept yourself as you are or do you invent stories (that you’ve come almost to believe)?
The danger of being dishonest with yourself about the stories you tell yourself is that it creates internal stress, which doesn’t make facing the challenges of leadership such as dealing with others’ emotions, managing conflict, failure and trials, any easier. If you listen to the stories that inspiring leaders, such as Indra Nooyi, Ursula Burns, or Richard Branson tell, a high level of self-awareness is clearly present. Their stories about who they are and where they come from are honest. They own their stories.
One effective way to develop increased self-awareness is by writing or keeping a journal. Whenever you deal with a difficult situation where your emotions are intense, write down your patterns, what happened, how you reacted and how things turned out. Another beneficial way is through developing a meditation or mindfulness practice, which helps you become more aligned with yourself.
Self-awareness also develops through receiving honest feedback from trusted others who know you well. They will be able to point out your strengths and also the blind spots that you don’t see.