In my self-CARE program, one of the exercises embedded in the self-awareness module relates to feedback. Feedback provides a mechanism to gauge how we perceive ourselves relative to how we are perceived by others. For most of us, the narrower this perception gap, the more in tune we feel with the people around us. Having knowledge about how we are perceived, while not being attached to how others perceive us, is a pillar of self-awareness.
In the program, I ask participants to seek feedback from someone close to them, relating specifically to communication. The aim here is to check to see whether their self-perceptions regarding communication are aligned with the person they are communicating with. This has numerous benefits, some of which are surprising, as exemplified by a recent discussion with a coaching client. For this discussion, let’s call her Anne.
Anne had been working through the self-CARE program as part of our coaching process over a period of 8-10 weeks. She had been gently progressing though the self-Awareness module and circling back through the self-Compassion module over this period until she reached the feedback exercise. Here, she found herself busy with other things and unable to progress, which for her was an atypical behaviour.
With a little probing as to what might have been in the way of progress, it seemed that she might simply be encountering a subconscious resistance to receiving feedback from someone that she loves, which might threaten her perception of self. Probing a little deeper, it was clear that she was afraid that this person would see the part of her that she had wanted to remain hidden. This part or aspect of herself had its origins from an experience she had as a 10-year-old. Without going into the specifics of her experience, she made up a story about her experience that left her thinking that she was “stupid”. This left her feeling rejected and has consequently coloured her self-perceptions ever since.
Simply put, Anne was avoiding completing the feedback exercise because she was afraid of being rejected, based on an experience she had as a 10-year-old. Anne, today, is an overachiever and highly intelligent, however the story she made up about herself when she was ten, still manages to have a meaningful influence on her life today.
Of course, this example is not unique to Anne. Whilst the experiences we all have are different, the meaning that we make of them has much commonality. Training ourselves in self-awareness can help us to regain agency over our reactions and behaviours, so that we are able to create an empowering future, rather than being constrained subconsciously by our past.
For Anne, having moved through this moment of resistance, she requested and received feedback, both positive and constructive, peeling back another layer of her knowledge-of-self onion. It turned out that a habitual and largely unconscious turn of phrase used by her had highlighted a blocker to her achieving one of her stated goals.
In setting up objectives in the early part of our coaching relationship, Anne has stated that she would like to be more powerful in her communication; that being heard was something that she felt was often missing in her professional settings. Interestingly, some of the constructive feedback she received was that she apologizes too frequently when she is communicating. By frequently apologizing unnecessarily, she was subconsciously giving away her power and almost encouraging the listener to selectively hear her.
There are many layers to this onion, but this simple exercise of asking for specific feedback from someone loved and respected, opened a portal to a much deeper understanding and awareness of self.
With this awareness, Anne can better regulate her behaviour and language, giving her access to her natural power and strength as a communicator.