Have you ever looked in the mirror and been a bit surprised by the reflection you see?

As I’m getting older, I find it happens to me more often than I’d like it to. In my mind, I’m still in my late-twenties/early thirties, but alas, my mirror image tells a different story. The perception of myself is a bit out of sync with reality.

I think this happens with people as it relates to their work performance as well. For example, Sally may feel that others perceive her performance one way, but the reality could be quite different. That is why it’s ALWAYS good to ask for feedback, whether it be through conversations or some sort of 360 assessment. Both of which can be helpful in developing self-awareness.

Overhead View Of Businesspeople Working At Office ComputerAnother vehicle for improving self-awareness is taking an approach that is like an out-of-body experience.

Imagine floating above yourself, looking down and observing how you are behaving and communicating with others. What you observe can be quite enlightening and help you gain a more accurate picture of how others may perceive you.

If you’ve ever been videotaped giving a presentation or conducting an interview, you know what I mean. Seeing yourself on camera reveals things of which you were previously unaware.While videotaping offers great insight, it’s not realistic to have a camera crew follow you around all day … unless, of course, you are the star of a new reality TV show!

So here’s another approach for gaining perspective about behaviors that may be tripping you up. I’ll call it INTENTIONAL OBSERVATION.

The idea here is that you intentionally focus on what is happening when you demonstrate a behavior that is not productive. By putting it in the front of your mind, you become more aware of what is going on when that unproductive behavior shows up. It’s a little like when you are in the market to buy a house, you begin to notice all the “for sale” signs that are posted in yards that you didn’t notice before you starting looking for houses.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you tend to interrupt others and can often dominate conversations so you want to become a better listener. Create a list of questions like the ones below to begin to notice what is contributing to your poor listening habits:

  • What are the situations when I demonstrate (fill in the unproductive behavior) poor listening most often?
  • When does it happen? Is there a particular topic that triggers this behavior? Is there a certain time of day when I demonstrate this unproductive behavior?
  • Is there a certain person(s) who provokes this behavior in me?
  • What is driving me to demonstrate this behavior? Why has this become my normal way of operating?
  • What new behavior can I demonstrate instead of the current unproductive behavior?

As you answer these questions, it’s like you’re looking down on yourself and observing what you see from an objective point of view. Once you answer these questions, you have a new awareness and that awareness can lead to taking corrective action.

This exercise offers insight about what may trigger the negative behavior, prompts you to be on guard and then be prepared to react in a new way.

Self-awareness is a valuable attribute for any leader and this type of intentional observation is a no-cost, self-directed method to enhance your development efforts.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.