professional development

Know your strengths and weaknesses: Eight steps to self-awareness

Eve Ash /

Is life all about knowing our correct acronym?

There’s a lot of personality tests in recruitment — these have been described as corporate astrology’. It’s a fair point. You could answer the questions differently every time, which would add up to a contradictory impression and there is no real gauge of how things will pan out if someone goes ahead and hires you. 

For example, asking how you might deal with ‘difficult’ colleagues will generally result in most candidates spieling something the interviewer wants to hear. Or they could be consciously or unconsciously biased in favour of certain ‘types’ who make the cut. 

Predicting success

Even psychometric tests which proclaim there are no ‘right answers’ are not going to reliably predict your chances of success in a given context, because knowing who you are and managing how you come across is just part of the equation. 

It’s why the biography industry will never cease. No matter how fascinating, talented, idiosyncratic and evolved some people claim to be, there will be a chorus of differing perceptions. If you accept this, then you can focus on how best to improve your self-awareness and self-management.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Humans are a blend of hot-buttons and disinterested logic, with a dash of altruism. Knowing what you have and lack is a start, especially as they impact on yourself and others. We should all have a good grasp of our strengths and ‘areas to be developed’.

Think about and assess yourself

The following exercise is worth attempting when you’re feeling in a reasonably good mood, have some quiet time and are ready to be objective. It is not something to tackle when you’ve just lost or quit your job or if you’re feeling bruised after an encounter with a manager, colleague, client or supplier.

1. Jot down your triggers for moods. What makes you happy? What saddens, worries and infuriates you? List them as honestly as possible and avoid the temptation to embellish because self-deception can block a person’s chance to progress.

2. List your qualities that have an effect on others. For example, your tendency to argue, or the way you like to send out detailed emails (and so on). Again, reflect on others’ occasional criticisms of you (both those of friends and colleagues). Try not to feel annoyed. Instead, consider how accurate they might be, especially when problems have erupted. Don’t forget to include any praise you’ve earned and received. 

3. Review everything you’ve recently written, achieved and completed and ask yourself what your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) might be. These also need to be contemplated in the context of your life’s trajectory. So if you’ve lacked self-discipline and it’s cost you in terms of career (etc), what steps can be made to improve this as an opportunity? 

4. Research and write how you’d like to improve in the areas you’ve identified as weaknesses and threats. Ask yourself why these have posed a challenge to you previously. It might simply be a matter of not liking to work a particular way, or because your training in an area has been patchy. Can these challenges be opportunities? How might they be made to work for you? 

5. Get a second opinion. In order to ensure the accuracy of your self-diagnosis, it’s valuable to run your self-assessment past a trusted friend, mentor, manager, colleague or small group. Choose people who are in a position to advise you properly, not just through opinions, but because they understand the marketplace, work trends and so on.  They should be interested to help you (and you them). 

6. Consider emotional self-awareness vs social awareness. Having a discussion with good friends on this topic is important, both when life is going well and when it isn’t. It’s surprising what they might truly think. You consider yourself assertive and forthright — they perceive you as arrogant and insensitive. Even so-called good people have their flaws — the passionate conservationist could be a self-justifying pedant in their private life. Being emotionally self-aware is useful, but some allowance needs to be made for how you rub along with others (and they with you, of course). 

7. Why change at all? It depends. Is how you’re being and what you’re doing impacting negatively, even harmfully, on yourself and others?  If yes, some change is definitely called for, unless you’re determined never to budge. In which case, the truth that hurts but heals won’t be your medicine.

8. Will self-awareness lead to confidence? Perhaps, but they are not necessarily related, and one doesn’t always generate the other. Think about a time when someone did their best to rob you of your confidence. You’ve snarled and hated that person for a while, mentally sticking pins into them. However, their criticisms, even denigration, can be used to hone your self-awareness. Perhaps you now realise the area you were working in is actually wrong for your skillset and temperament. Or conversely, that you’re better off seeking more genuine colleagues who care about people, not just ‘results’? Either way, that person casting shade might have done you an inadvertent favour. The outcome? You develop greater self-awareness and confidence moving forward.

You don’t need personality tests to determine the above.  Knowing more about who you are will develop over time and through your willingness to observe, listen, reflect and choose.

NOW READ: Why emotional intelligence is the new black

NOW READ: Five ways to sharpen your strategy and get your ideas heard

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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