“We ought to have the humility to admit that we do not know all about ourselves, that we are not experts at running our own lives” Thomas Merton

Although it is often ignored or seen as unimportant, awareness is the most important life skill and emotional competency. It is where any real action must originate and where any relationship begins. Most of us think we are aware but in reality we could all do with a wake up call, something that could shake us out of our unawareness and autopilot. Awareness shows us that when we are not mindful of what we are seeing, hearing, and doing, it is as if it does not exist for us. If our child, employee, or partner comes to talk with us and we are distracted, we both go away feeling dissatisfied and hungry for connection and intimacy. The more mindful we are the more we understand interactions and events around us, and more profoundly, the more we are in touch with our personal values and what drives our behavior. Awareness is a basic survival skill, a basic business skill, and the foundation of all successful relationships.

Being aware means minimizing our tendency to linger in the past, replaying past offences, hurts, and mistakes (or successes, for that matter); it means liberating ourselves from our old baggage. The ability to observe and reflect on what is happening and to use that information to communicate and make decisions is one of the most valuable life skills we can have. In Conscious Business Fred Kofman writes:

“To live consciously means to be open to perceiving the world around us, to understand our circumstances, and to decide how to respond to them in ways that honor our needs, values and goals…. We not only perceive the external world, we can also bear witness to our internal world. We can pose questions like, ‘Why am I thinking what I am thinking?’ ‘Do I have sound reasons for my conclusions?’ …Not only do we experience self-awareness, we also recognize ‘other-awareness.’ I’m talking about something more subtle than perceiving other people from an external perspective. We know that beyond people’s observable behavior, they are conscious, choosing their actions based on their reasoning. We can ask, ‘What leads you to think what you are thinking?’ ‘Do you have evidence for your conclusions?’ ‘Why is this issue important to you?’”

Coaching Tip: Use Inner and Other Awareness to Improve Relationships

In his book, Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman describes three primary kinds of focus: Inner, Other, and Outer.

Inner focus refers to self-awareness and self-management: how well we know the values that guide our behavior, and our strengths and limitations. This focus helps us handle negative emotions and stay positive so that we can reach our goals and bounce back from setbacks.

Other focus describes how well we tune into people, understand how people perceive things, how they feel, and what we can do to help them be their best. This focus is essential for motivating people, persuasion and influence, negotiation and conflict management, and teamwork and collaboration.

      Outer focus has to do with how well we can perceive the large, global forces that create our world, like how a new technology will affect a market, whose opinion matters most for a decision, or how global warming will affect us. Outer awareness allows us to anticipate what’s coming.

For our purposes, we’ll focus only on Goleman’s Inner and Other focus. From an Inner focus perspective, think of any relationship you have been in, or are in now—it could be with a person at work or in your personal life. Now ask yourself how aware you are of your thoughts, feelings and behavior toward this person. Do you behave in a habitual, “automatic” way? What are the effects of being aware or not aware of this person?

Next, from an Other focus, consider how aware you are of this person’s desires, motivations, thoughts, feelings, and actions. Do you take for granted he or she has similar desires or is motivated by similar things as you? Have you ever asked what motivates this person? Are you sensitive to this person’s feelings? Do you ask how he or she is feeling? What is the impact of being aware and unaware of this person?