We make better choices when we are more aligned with our true selves, explains Rhonda Scharf

Do you see yourself as others see you, or does your intent influence your interpretation of yourself? Can you see the actual results, or do you focus on what you intended the results to be?

I’m not talking about what you see in the mirror. I am referring to self-awareness from your words, behaviour, and emotions. Do you see how your words and actions impact others? Can you adjust instantly because you notice that what you thought would happen didn’t happen? Or do you use excuses or blame to justify why things didn’t go according to plan?

Self-awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your strengths, limitations, and emotions and the ability to monitor and adjust them in real-time.

Imagine you are sitting at your desk working away, and a coworker approaches you and whispers, “Are you okay today?” You are shocked at the question and respond, “Yes, I’m fine. Why?” They brush it off and say, “Oh, I don’t know. You seem a little cross today, and I want to make sure that everything is okay and that I didn’t say anything wrong.”

At that moment, you are not being self-aware. You are nose to the grindstone, working away. Unfortunately, your behaviour has others thinking that you are not in a good mood, and that they have perhaps done something to upset you.

If you were self-aware, you would recognize that your focus impacts how others see you and make a conscious effort to ensure others don’t interpret your focus as being cross or rude. You would make a point to say hello when coworkers walked by. You wouldn’t make excuses for your behaviour but adjust it instead.

The Two Types of Self-Awareness

Internal self-awareness

This refers to how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, and how we fit into our environment. It includes how we interpret our own thoughts, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses.

External self-awareness

This refers to how others see us and how our values, passions, and aspirations impact them. Research suggests that individuals with high external self-awareness tend to be more skilled at showing empathy and understanding others’ perspectives.

I know that my communication style is direct. I don’t struggle with words, and I am confident in my own beliefs. I love other strong alpha-female type women, as I value that as a communication trait. However, I am well aware that not everyone perceives my direct communication style the same way I do. Some see it as abrasive and opinionated. In some situations, I need to temper my style so I don’t come across as arrogant and rude.

I’m self-aware enough to know that not everyone sees what I see as a positive trait as a positive trait.

If you accurately perceive how others see you at work, it will build better relationships and efficiency.

For example, imagine a senior-level board meeting where you are required to take minutes. The group is debating an issue and has moved away from the subject at hand. If you interrupt and let everyone know that they’ve strayed from the original discussion point, you have to be aware of how others will interpret that interruption. Some will appreciate that you’ve focused the group. Others will think you’ve overstepped your role and expect the Chair to be the only one to refocus the group.

Do you care? Those who are not externally self-aware don’t care what others think. That’s not confidence; it’s arrogance, as they know they are right and their need to be right is more important than the perception of others.

Those who are self-aware know that others may interpret their interruption as interference and instead control or adjust how they interrupt the meeting. They do it tactfully, or they ask the Chair to refocus the group. They are demonstrating external self-awareness by assessing the best way to refocus the group.

Becoming self-aware takes a lot of effort. Assuming that your perception is the only thing that matters impacts how others see you, and it’s not in your favour.

Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Start Listening to the Things You Tell Yourself

What goes on in your mind? Do you have a constant stream of negative thoughts? If you are in an interview and are asked about your strengths and weaknesses, what do you say to yourself, and what do you say to the interviewer? I know that most people have the answer prepared, as they want to get the job they are interviewing for, but are you sharing what you truly believe are your strengths and weaknesses, or are you sharing what you think the interviewer wants to hear?

I have yet to meet anyone who honestly shares that they know they have a negative attitude. Yet I have met many people who have a negative attitude. They see every situation as negative and rarely see anything positive. There is always something to complain about. Yet they don’t see that trait in themselves.

Start paying attention to what you say to yourself (and others). Look at your digital footprint: Do you complain a lot online? Why? Look at your small talk. Do you complain about the weather, traffic, government, or sports teams? Do you ever have a small talk conversation about what a good day it is?

Challenge Your Self-Talk

If you are familiar with imposter syndrome, you know there are times at work when you don’t feel you have the right or knowledge to speak up, ask questions, or challenge. Your self-talk tells you not to speak up, as you may say something wrong or not understand the situation’s complexity.

Start asking yourself why you believe that. Then, using external self-awareness, position your comments in a non-offensive, not passive, way. If you are holding yourself back from situations, challenge yourself as to why. Are you using excuses to justify your behaviour?

Ask for Feedback to Find Out How Others See You

When I teach communication workshops, we often share personality types (DISC, Myers-Briggs, True Colours, etc.). I don’t use the assessments, as those rely on internal self-awareness to have you answer correctly (which most people don’t do). I like to have your peers tell you what your personality traits are. It is very easy to see traits in others but much harder to see them in ourselves.

Would you be comfortable with that? Would you be comfortable having a colleague tell you that you have an extremely passive communication style? Could you accept that feedback, or would you dismiss it?

It is very hard to ask others for feedback, as we often don’t want to hear what they have to say. However, feedback is one of the fastest and most effective ways to grow and improve ourselves.


When we understand ourselves, both internally and externally, we can make improvements and work toward growth. It requires deliberate exploration, digging deep, and examining how we react to situations. We can make better choices when we are more aligned with our true selves.

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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