Asking one simple question can change your life.
“Would you go out with me?”
“Do you know anyone who is good at this?”
“What do I want to do with my life?”
“Would you mentor me?”
“Is this all there is or is there more?”
The answers to these questions can not only change the trajectories of our lives but the lives of those around us and millions of others too.
A few years ago, I heard about a life-changing question. A pastor and former marketing executive named Jeff Henderson delivered a talk at a leadership event. The talk was built around a simple question Henderson was suggesting could lead to breakthroughs in our personal leadership and team dynamics.
The question was simple and profound. And I was instantly terrified as soon as he said it. I knew if I asked this question to those on my team, I would most certainly get information I did not want to hear. As soon as I reflected on this reality, I knew I had to ask it anyway.
The question Henderson posed was, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”
This terrifying question can be asked in a company, a non-profit organization, a church, a sports team, a marriage, a family or a friendship. This question has the potential to transform any and all relationships. Asking “what’s it like to be on the other side of me?” opens the door for us to gain self-awareness we’ve been lacking up until now.
And self-awareness is the key to our success.
The Power of Self-Awareness
Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations conducted a study in 2010. They examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion. The research examined a number of executive interpersonal traits. In the official findings, the researchers noted, “leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness,’ which should actually be a top criterion. Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”
Did you catch that?
The best way to predict success in leadership is high self-awareness.
This information shouldn’t be surprising, though. We’ve all been around leaders who lacked self-awareness. We’ve also experienced the consequences of lacking this kind of awareness ourselves. What you don’t know can hurt you! This is why we need to ask hard questions which help us become self-aware.
The Process is Often Painful But Essential
A few years ago, my wife and I had some friends over to our house for dinner. As we were hanging out after the meal and talking, we ended up talking about some dynamics in our church. I made a comment about how I had recently switched the shoes I wore on Sundays because I was walking around so much my feet began to hurt. One of the ladies in our living room quipped that I must have been in too much of a hurry because of how I treat people. The room got quiet and I asked her to clarify her comment.
She explained how I failed to recognize people in a room if they weren’t the people I had to see on my agenda.
In effect, I was ignoring people because (she perceived) they weren’t important enough to me.
This piece of feedback was a jagged pill to swallow. It stung and I don’t remember much more of that evening. However, in reflection, I discovered she was correct. I began radically changing my approach to my movement on Sundays as a pastor. While not perfect, I was grateful to hear comments in the future indicating I was making progress.
7 Steps to Successfully Increasing Self-Awareness
How do you ask this question in a way that helps us gain self-awareness? Follow these 7 steps.
1. Create a safe environment to ask “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”
Most people hold back the hard truth. Some tell a portion of the truth, but they don’t go all the way. The person we’re asking may have experience not receiving feedback well from us. It’s on us to create a safe environment for them to share as truthfully as possible.
“If you do not have self-awareness..the only way you can gain it is by getting other people to give you the data points. But most people won’t tell you the truth. So it’s on you to create an environment, a very safe environment, for somebody to tell you the truth. You say, ‘This is the most important question I will ever ask you in my life. You need to tell me the truth. My intuition is you’re not going to want to tell me the truth, but you have to understand I’m okay with it – I’m in the right mind space for this. I need the truth.’ Then you ask them.”
This is good, but we’re just getting started.
2. Resist the desire to question, caveat, justify or defend yourself.
We must resist – absolutely resist – the desire to respond in any way which questions the validity of their experience and perspective on us. If we do any of these (question, caveat, justify, or defend), that person will never be honest and they’ll tell others to be dishonest too. We must decide, “Do we really want to know?” When they share, we need to remind ourselves of the purpose behind the question as we endure the pain of what we hear.
3. Thank the person for their honesty.
This must be genuine. Show true appreciation. Put yourself in their shoes – it was scary for them to answer, just as it was scary for us to ask. We don’t need to give them a gift card for dinner, but say “thank you” before the conversation is done and drop them a follow-up email or note later that day or the next day.
4. Mine the feedback for the jewels of truth, discarding the rocks of untruth.
Do this soon. Do this in private. All feedback is a mixed bag of objective truth and personal perspective. But remember, for all of us, perception is reality. I developed a criticism checklist to filter through feedback like this. Using this checklist enables me to hold on to the jewels and discard the rocks.
5. Publicly acknowledge the feedback and insight.
If others know we’re having the conversation, share the outcome. They need to know we know what they know. The worst thing we can do is get feedback and never share it. If we want a culture of humility, honesty, and growth around us, we need to acknowledge the difficult news we received and affirm the accuracy of it.
6. Adjust behavior and attitude in visible ways.
Acknowledgment plus adjustment earns us credibility. If we mention it but don’t change, we communicate we either don’t care for others or we have no desire to get better. This is yet another way to ensure we’re going to get honest feedback the next time. When people see us acknowledging and adjusting, they’re more likely to support our efforts and to share honestly the information we need to know the next time we ask.
7. Ask God to produce supernatural change.
Some change is more difficult than others. As a follower of Jesus, I know that some weaknesses in me seem like monumental obstacles. In those areas, I know I cannot overcome them on my own – I need God to change my heart and make possible what is impossible for me alone. I love the phrase, “pray like it depends on God, work like it depends on you.” Do all you can while inviting God to do all you can’t.
Facing the Fear
I mentioned earlier that I was terrified the first time I heard this question. You may be terrified of asking it too. Author Jack Canfield once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
I would add that everything you want is on the other side of a conversation you’re unwilling to have or a decision you’re unwilling to make.
You have no idea how these conversations could go. But if you feel called to the work you’re doing (or the relationship you’re in) and you feel like it matters, then you need to increase your self-awareness. You need to minimize your blind spots. And you need to know what it’s like to be on the other side of you.
Face your fear and be courageous.