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Awareness: The meta skill for the future of work

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This story was published on our The Memo from Quartz at Work newsletter, practical advice for modern workers everywhere
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Has the world of work really changed that much post-pandemic? We have no shortage of zeitgeists to examine. Is it the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, or the Great Exhaustion? Should we all be quiet quitting? Or is your boss quiet firing you? But the workplace issues that spur these conversations are deeper-seated than a passing movement—and none of them address the work required to rightsize the role of work in our lives.

Enter the meta skill for change at work: better awareness. Awareness grounds our ability to sense both limitations and potential. To create change within organizations, it’s useful to understand awareness on three levels:

  • Self-awareness: Our ability to clearly see our own values, strengths, thoughts, feelings, behavior, and impact.
  • Other-awareness: Our ability to see, understand, and leverage each other in meaningful ways.
  • Organizational awareness: A company’s ability to view itself honestly, owning its potential and addressing its limitations.

These types of awareness fit together like nesting dolls, building on each other. At its center, our strengthened sense of awareness must start with the self; that helps us build awareness of others, which expands our view into our organization. With full awareness, we are able to bring fresh eyes to the dynamics within the system in which we work, the people we work with, and ourselves. What we truly see, we can truly change.


Quotable

“Deep, wide, lasting meaningful change requires both individual and organizational behavioral change.”

—Brené Brown, American professor, author, podcast host


Get a little selfish

The first level of this skillset at work: your self-awareness.

Psychologist Christine Fonseca calls the brain the unreliable narrator. “It doesn’t understand truth as we often define it,” she writes. “Instead, it functions on personal truth: facts and reality that sift through the filter of our personal biases and perceptions about the world.” Layer on the cognition errors we make daily, and we’re a dubious source.

So how can you strengthen your own self-awareness—and foster it in others? Try these two practices to start:

  • Play to your strengths. Personality assessments can provide us with information that helps us see ourselves more clearly and honestly. Tools like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths offer data with fresh perspectives on how we can shift things to increase our impact on the job, or even just feel more fulfilled.
  • Review, reflect, revise. Scheduling time at the end of each day or week to reflect on what you did, how you did it, and what you’ll do differently next time helps bolster how well you can see yourself. Try tracking those reflections over time in a journal or online doc—they’ll make for powerful data in handling performance reviews, advocating for salary or responsibility changes, and accounting for your time and efforts.

One or the other

After you’ve developed better practices for self-awareness, turn your attention to other-awareness.

The pandemic pulled back the curtain on our personal lives. And while it blurred the lines between home and work, it also forced people to become more authentic with each other. We’ve been able to drop facades enforced by boundaries, become more open, and start to learn about others in a new way. Other-awareness helps us see how others view us, but more importantly, it helps us see the unique power of others’ strengths and preferences.

Test these two strategies to increase your other-awareness:

  • Find a lingua franca. Teams who have a common language can save time in setting expectations and increase their impact. So don’t just take assessments: share them. By using the language of assessments as a common vocabulary, teams can increase their other-awareness and create a new linked language.
  • Tap the tricks that cruise through conflict. Knowing others well helps you avoid needless conflict—and work through the healthy conflict that guides teams towards innovation and change. To build both other-awareness and better conflict, some teams leverage personal user guides, while others explore tools like the Thomas-Kilmann conflict assessment to identify conflict styles.

Devise, revise, organize

At the last level, working on your organizational awareness brings these skills all together.

Expecting to execute well without awareness of your total environment is like running a race in the rainforest and not considering how the conditions will impact your performance. To be agile, you need to hone your organizational awareness: your ability to see your company for what it is, decipher where it is on track with your goals, and help it get where it needs to go.

Consider two practices that can be practiced at the individual, team, and organization level to increase to increase our organizational awareness:

  • Start, stop, pause—then keep on. Leveraging a simple start, stop, pause, continue exercise can help audit what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll emerge with data to fuel conversations with leaders and peers—and help identify any performance or other organizational issues.
  • Test new tools for change. Take a crash course in the principles of changing humans and systems in five words, simplified as ADKAR. Try the Prosci organizational change model: awareness of the need for change, desire to participate and support the change, knowledge on how to change, ability to implement desired skills and behaviors, and reinforcement to sustain the change.

The more you know

Want to read more on bolstering your awareness at work? Take these five stories for additional tips.

🪜 Three steps to increase your self-awareness. Our favorite part? Each step starts with “what the hell.”

🔎 The advice you should seek (and ignore) to become more self-aware.

🥇 The real competitive advantage in business? Self-awareness.

🏋️ How to build a self-improving team, plus the management styles that support them.

🧠 Think you’re highly self-aware? Only 15% of us actually are.


You got the memo

Send any news, comments, or tips for knowing thyself to aoakes@qz.com.

This edition of The Memo was brought to you by:

🍭 Our editor, Anna Oakes, who was raised by hippies and eats this awareness chatter up like her kids’ Halloween candy—by the fistful.

🙏 And our new deputy editor, Gabriela Riccardi, who’s ready to eat, pray, love her way to self-discovery anytime.

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