1. Self-Awareness: Career Advice (The “Work Toolkit Skills Series”)
What is the Work Toolkit Skills Series?
Today, I’m starting the first post of a career advice series that I’m going to call the “Work Toolkit Skills Series“. This post is all about having Self-Awareness at work, which I’d also call being perceptive of what’s going on around you in the office or as my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, “It’s NOT all about YOU.”
I see this series as separate posts on skills that professionals should have or should work on developing so they can be their best self and succeed in the workplace. The idea being that we should be continuously developing our skills, and I’m using the example of collecting these skills (or tools) into a toolbox. The more tools (skills) you have in your toolbox, the more everything you become (e.g. indispensable at work, valuable asset to the company, knowledgeable on various topics, marketable, and much more).
You should work on continuing to develop and increase your skillset for:
- Yourself: so you remain marketable and indispensable at work and therefore have options and are in control of your career.
- Employer: so you’re someone people want to work with, want to keep because you’re an asset and seen as someone who has skills that further the company.
- Clients: you help, so you’re delivering the best product and best service and are known for being the go-to in your field – overtime of producing high quality work product.
What is Self-Awareness as a Skill?
Self-awareness seems to be a buzz word right now, so I’m going to use it to emphasize the importance of being conservative in your workplace, listening more than you speak, and paying attention to the work environment, because sometimes actions can speak louder than words.
I think that being conservative is connected to listening more than you speak, especially when you’re new. It not only shows respect, but gives you perspective to see what relationships have already been established, what the contentious issues are and it gives you insight into the work environment. Paying attention to people’s reactions, demeanour and behaviour can tell you a lot about what’s going on and what people are not prepared to say out loud.
It’s being perceptive of not only what people say but how they act. Some co-workers are direct, and that’s helpful because usually you know where you stand with them and they tell you to your face if you’ve done something they didn’t like or upset them. Whereas other co-workers are not direct and make passive aggressive comments instead. I don’t do much when someone makes passive aggressive comments to me, other than note that it’s been said and hope they find yoga in their lives and mediate! I joke here, but I actually wrote a post that addresses how you can deal with passive aggressive employees, click here to read it.
What are Examples of a Lack of Self-Awareness?
Now that I’m in a management role, I’m affected more and more (hence this series) by co-workers who either are not self-aware (unintentionally) or are self-aware but intentionally choose not to be.
Here are some examples of what I would characterize as colleagues have shown a lack of self-awareness in the office:
- “I’m going to the gym.” A partner at the firm had an urgent telephone call from a client, but it was unknown at what time the client was going to call. Rather than the junior, who had also been working on that file, hanging around in the office for that call, they said to the partner that they were going to the gym. That junior went to the gym and the call came while they were at the gym. Once they got back from the gym, they asked the partner to fill them in.
- No thank you email or card (until 2 months later). Someone got married at the firm. Co-workers had each personally contributed a sum of money to a card and gave a lump sum of money to the co-worker who had gotten married. No thank you email and no thank you card was sent around. It wasn’t until 2 months later when a card showed up in the lunch room. Someone in the office had obviously told that person that they should have thanked everyone. But 2 months later … yeah… That’ll probably be the last time people give money out of their pocket to that person.
How to be Self-Aware:
When I started interviewing for jobs after law school, I think the best piece of interviewing advice I got was, “be conservative”. (If you’re curious and want to read about me, click here.)
I have somewhat of a loud voice and sometimes I can have no filter, but because I have self-awareness, I knew that I couldn’t be all of myself in the interview.
Being conservative means things like thinking before speaking, rather than just reacting to a question or statement. It’s about knowing and assessing your audience when you are going to speak. I’m not only conservative in the office. I use this approach in the way I dress at work, how I conduct myself in meetings, at firm events and at work social events. People like to talk about themselves, so being curious about other people and asking questions about other people isn’t such a bad thing. It has saved me from oversharing.
Here are ways to be self-aware:
1. Think about others before yourself. I’m not saying all the time, but in stressful, urgent or time sensitive matters, think about what you can help others.
2. If you can’t think of how you can be helpful in those situations, ask the person or people you are working with what you can do to be helpful. Whether there is something you can go get (e.g. lunch, dinner, if no one has eaten), something you can prepare in anticipation of something happening (e.g. research, a letter), whether you can print and assemble any documents or binders that might be needed later on. It’s really just about THINKING AHEAD AND ANTICIPATING NEXT STEPS OR POSSIBLE SITUATIONS THAT MIGHT ARISE.
3. DON’T tell your colleagues more senior than you HOW BUSY YOU ARE. I often get younger lawyers telling me about how much they have to do and then they start to list out their to-do list to me after I’ve asked them to help with something. Please don’t do this and keep it to yourself. It’s not only annoying, it’s a waste of time and someone more senior than you likely has a much longer to-do list. It’s just that with experience, the more senior person has learned to accept that the to-do list is never ending. In most careers, it’s better to be busy and have too much work than the opposite, so be thankful.
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