Knowing Yourself Takes Work - And It's Worth It
As I mentioned in my last article, There Is an "I" In Team - Being a Better Team Player, my focus in my work is around adult to adult communication in schools. How do we stretch ourselves at our learning edges to become our best adult selves at school? How do we communicate well with one another in service of our students?
In my last article I asserted there is an "I" in team and shared key ideas around how we can better engage as an effective group member. This article continues my six-part series on being a better colleague and collaborative team member by focusing on another key "stretch edge," knowing ourselves.
Our ability to collaborate and our willingness to engage respectfully with one another matters for the health of the school and the collective well-being of all within it. And one of the steps you can do to engage respectfully with others is to better know yourself.
Understanding who we are as an individual is vital to working productively within teams because our identity shapes our behaviors, our choices, and our actions. Our upbringing and values affect how we communicate - what we say and how and when we say it.
We have different stories and histories. We hold assumptions and have blind spots. It's important that we recognize how our own identities interact with and can bump up against others' upbringings, values, and beliefs.
You might begin to feel uncomfortable as you begin to learn about yourself and differences between you and your colleagues. Many of us strive to minimize differences with the goal to avoid stereotyping and to keep harmony within a group. We have been taught to treat each person as an individual and recognize the essential humanity in each one of us.
We cannot (and should not) apply our wish to feel comfortable onto others and thus avoid discussions which minimize our differences. That wish can result in a negative impact. In the end, it can go against our intention to treat everyone with respect. We need to stretch at this learning edge in order to truly examine how a lack of knowledge about our identity and a lack of time spent learning about others can unintentionally affect our work.
Knowing Your Identity
WHAT IS IT?
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Knowledge of your history and upbringing, as well as how your background informs your identity, beliefs, and values, and thus, your work.
Recognition that your strengths, motivations, work styles, and learning edges help you discern the best next steps to develop yourself so you are able to collaborate more effectively with others who might not share those traits.
Increases self-awareness and personal insight.
Increases flexibility in your choices of what to say and do, when and how to communicate, and how to behave in more productive ways for the good of your organization.
Being able to articulate your connection with various parts of your identity (gender, race, ethnicity, faith, etc.) and recognize how those parts impact your choices and actions.
Examination of beliefs and actions and how your choices can adversely affect others.
Ability to articulate your values, work styles, and preferences and recognize how those affect your work and leadership., using verbal and nonverbal behaviors that exhibit respect, and more.
Adapted from Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work – Jennifer Abrams, 2021, MiraVia Publishing.
Things you can consider as you work to know yourself better:
KNOWING YOURSELF TAKES WORK
Knowing yourself is an ongoing journey of discovery, and it doesn’t happen without commitment. We know from experiences with those older than us that aging does not necessarily increase self-awareness. It takes conscious effort to understand yourself. It is true that you have preferences or inclinations such as, "I like chocolate more than vanilla,"; or "I am a night person."; Yet knowing yourself more deeply, your biases, your limitations, and how your upbringing affects your work and impacts your work with others, well, that requires internal study.
For example, exploring how your family communicated with your schools might help you understand your expectations of parent-teacher interactions. Understanding how your family dealt with conflict may help you recognize patterns in how you talk to colleagues about difficult topics. Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses on a youth sports team might help you understand your approach as a team member.
We bring our past into our present. Awareness of how history impacts current work is a worthwhile endeavor, because knowing and evolving is an ongoing, active project. Increased awareness might cause us discomfort, and that discomfort is important as we develop and grow.
BEING AWARE OF YOUR BLIND SPOTS IS A GOOD THING - REALLY
Self-exploration is easier for some than others. Looking at our blind spots is an uncomfortable undertaking. You may uncover or rediscover parts of yourself that you don’t love to acknowledge. For example, you might not have thought about offering food to students during the holidays because you were never food insecure. Or you always assume families can attend parent-teacher conferences because your parents were able to take time off. Or you might expect a basic understanding of Judeo-Christian references since you grew up going to church or synagogue while others might be of a different faith and not be aware of your concepts. Identifying, acknowledging and, dare I say, admitting you have blind spots, weaknesses, or limitations offers areas for learning and ways to grow. Understanding that we all are “works in progress” can help us become more self-compassionate and more empathic toward teammates.
IDENTITY ISN'T FIXED, AND YOU CAN CHANGE
We are all in the process of forming our identity. Age changes us, as do life events such as moving, divorce, deaths, relationships, teaching, leading, raising children, and external events in the world. You shouldn’t feel stuck with one identity, attached to the same passions, fears, thoughts, feelings, and limitations. You can ask yourself what story in your life brought you to any given opinion and whether you want to continue thinking this way. You can change and adapt.
As we work on engaging as our best adult selves, we need to consistently focus not just on the content of our meetings with others but also on who we are and how our identities interact with others. We can ask:
- How do I self-identify? Which parts of my identity are more important now than they were in the past and which are less important?
- Where are my blind spots in terms of how I see the world? What don’t I notice? Where are my limitations?
- What do I know about how I see the world differently than others? How do I work effectively with those differences?
In my previous articles, I focused on Engaging with Reciprocity, and in my following articles, I will look at three other essential areas where we can stretch ourselves at our learning edges and become even more effective professionals in our adult to adult communication.
Formerly a high school English teacher and a new teacher coach, Jennifer Abrams is currently a communications consultant who focuses on adult to adult communication in schools. Her publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigeerational Workplace: Communincate, Collaborate and Create Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked - the Whos, Whens and What Ifs and Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her newest book is, Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work.
Internationally, Jennifer presented at PTC, TTC, EARCOS, NESA, ECIS, AISA, AMISA, CEESA and Tri-Association conferences, and at schools across Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America and North America. More about Jennifer’s work can be found at her website, www.jenniferabrams.com.