Self-Awareness is a Rare Quality. Cultivate it.

by | May 26, 2020 | Life Lessons

“We’ve found that even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality…” ~ Tasha Eurich in Harvard Business Review

As much as people claim to be self-aware, research does not support their claim. The data show that only about 10-15% of people are self-aware. That means upwards of 90% of people are walking around thinking they know themselves and the impact they have on others. The reality is they don’t have a clue.


Yeah, that was kind of strong. Let me say it this way – they may have a clue, but not enough to be deemed self-aware. And that’s my point. When we believe we know ourselves and how we’re perceived by others, when in fact we don’t know at all or only dimly, then we put ourselves at a disadvantage.

We’re disadvantaged in making good decisions, building stronger relationships, communicating effectively, getting promoted, being an effective leader or more satisfied employee. At least that’s what organizational psychologist and executive coach Tasha Eurich found through her large-scale study on self-awareness.

Eurich and her team of researchers conducted 10 separate investigations with nearly 5,000 participants. In their study, they found that there are two types of self-awareness. One type is internal self-awareness, which “represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.” The other is external self-awareness, which is “understanding how other people view us.”

At the conclusion of their study, Eurich and the team found that “self-awareness is truly a rare quality.”  To learn more about Eurich’s study, check out her article in the Harvard Business Review.

Though true self-awareness is rare, it does not mean you can’t cultivate it. I still believe the Johari window is a simple and effective instrument to assess and cultivate self-awareness. Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed the Johari window in 1955. The name of the tool, Johari, is a combination of the men’s first names. The Johari window has withstood time and is a tool that I still like to use with myself and others.

Here’s how the Johari window works. The person being assessed is given a list of 55 adjectives and selects approximately five to six from the list that they feel reflects their personality. Peers of the person are given the same list, and they select five to six adjectives to describe the person.

Johari Window

The results of the selections are plotted into four quadrants (the window panes) as follows:

Quadrant 1: Open (or Arena)

Adjectives selected by both the person and the peers are placed here. These are qualities known to self and known to others. The Open quadrant is where greater trust, productivity, collaboration, and healthy conflict reside. The person and their peers have an established relationship. The aim is for a person to increase their self-awareness by becoming more open – having greater knowledge of self and letting others know them as well.

Quadrant 2: Blind Spot

Adjectives selected by the peers, but not by the person are placed here. These are qualities that are known to others, but not known to the person. This is the quadrant that demonstrates a clear lack of self-awareness.  To cultivate greater self-awareness, the person can seek feedback from others to increase the Open area. The 360-Degree Feedback instrument is a valuable tool to gather perspectives and feedback from others and increase a person’s awareness of self.

Quadrant 3: Hidden (or Façade)

Adjectives selected by the person, but not by the peers are placed here. These are qualities known to the person, but not known to others. Therefore, this quadrant represents the side of the person that is hidden from others. There could be a number of reasons why a person withholds information about themselves. It could simply be that the person is more private or wishes to keep certain aspects of their lives out of view from others. It could be something painful or embarrassing that the person chooses not to reveal. There could be deeply held fears the person does not feel safe enough to share. And, it could also be information the person withholds for a personal, manipulative agenda. There are a number of reasons. If you find yourself having a lot of information in the Hidden quadrant, just be aware that you may be limiting your chances at having open and trusting relationships. It can also negatively impact your overall personal and professional success. To cultivate self-awareness and the benefits of that awareness, think of this quadrant as the quadrant where self-disclosure is needed. 

Quadrant 4: Unknown

Adjectives that were not selected by either the person or their peers are placed here. The qualities are not known to the person or to others. There could be many reasons for this lack of knowledge, but also represents a gap in self-awareness. There may be latent gifts and talents not yet known or expressed in the person’s life. There could be repressed feelings and experiences from childhood. There might also be information that just has not been shared with the person yet, e.g., medical test results, a new responsibility at work, etc. This quadrant is the quadrant of self-discovery or observation by others. Clearly, we evolve and grow and there will always be things to explore about ourselves and others. It’s worth it to spend time here. 

Having self-awareness is essential to your overall success. As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” Now that you know there can be a gap between a person’s perceptions of their self-awareness and their true awareness, it’s worth it to elicit feedback from your peers and others you trust; to self-disclose more of yourself to those you desire to have open and trusting relationships with; and to go on a self-discovery journey to explore those parts of you that are still unknown to you and others.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading Who are You? 21 Questions for Self-Discovery. Also, I invite you to subscribe to my Your Aha! Life monthly newsletter and join my private Facebook group, The Aha! Community.


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