The old philosophical dictum “Know Thyself” is an example of a great truth that does not lose its significance when time goes by. Self-awareness remains a critical component of communication between individuals, contributing to the ability of people to build cooperation and create a mutually stimulating atmosphere. Understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses is a challenge that has to be overcome in the contemporary competitive environment that requires of a person the complete mobilisation of resources of a person.
The process of increasing self-awareness is crucial to the improvement of professional competence of the members of an organisation, and therefore building individual self-awareness is an important factor in improving overall organisational effectiveness (Croswell, Holiday, 2004). An organisation consisting of self-aware individuals will be able to create better communication channels that will contribute to its success. Awareness in individuals in the interwoven web of relations within an organisation becomes a prerequisite of successful collective experience, as it is as always directly dependent on the features of individual members as much as organisational structure and culture. At this point, researchers often claim that “the most critical knowledge for a manager’s career in the new economy may be self-knowledge” (Parks, Zhao, 1995, p. 20).
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The Nature of Self-Awareness and Its Influence on Communication
Self-awareness refers to the recognition of personal strengths and weaknesses in an individual and results in the construction of a more or less realistic picture of oneself as a personality. With almost all individuals, their own self-perception will exhibit differences from the views of other individuals on their relative abilities, and self-awareness is supposed to bridge this gap. It therefore is a process of continuous self-exploration that can continue for a lifetime.
The degree of truthfulness with which a person conceives of one’s own strengths and weaknesses may vary from one individual to another, affecting a person’s ability to see objectively own faults and capitalise on advantages. In general, “self awareness can be manifested in positive feelings of achievement or feelings of incompetence or underachievement” (Jambunathan, Norris, 2000, 91). Perception of incompetence in a specific area will force a person undertake actions to correct the inadequacy. The same refers to communication: individuals who perceive problems in their communicative skills and are able to locate these gaps will find it easier to correct them, in this way boosting their communicative ability.
Communication and self-awareness exert mutual influence. Thus, “many psychologists theorize that one’s self has a large interpersonal component” (Weiss, 2001, 34). However, self-awareness is not only constructed by the process of interaction with other individuals; it is also exerting serious influence on such process. In part, it does so by being linked to individual self-esteem that affects communication within professional groups and can impact chances of a career success. A person with successfully developed self-awareness will be able to better position oneself in relation to the group, correctly identify the possibilities within such a group and take advantage of the emerging opportunities.
Self-monitoring as Way to Build Self-Awareness
and Increase Communicative Competence
The interpersonal component of self-awareness stipulates that people can foster self-awareness by assessing how good they are in communication and in comparison with others. This is partly explained by self-monitoring theory that poses a difference between people in terms of their ability to evaluate and control their behaviour in a group, especially the ability to present oneself and convey ideas to others. Kolb (1998) thus describes individual differences in self-monitoring ability:
High self-monitors (individuals who score high on a measure of self-monitoring) respond to cues from others and adapt to what is expected of them, whereas low self-monitors are less concerned with assessing the social climate and rely instead on their own instincts in determining how to behave in social situations.
Self-monitoring simultaneously increases personal self-awareness and contributes to increase in a person’s communicative competence, constituting a key component of communicative knowledge. This activity is the key to building awareness of abilities and skills necessitated by a group environment. Therefore, self-monitoring becomes a key component of ability to influence others in group work. In contributing to a rise in self-awareness, self-monitoring also increases the competence of a person to operate in “boundary-spanning jobs that require sensitivity to social cues” (Kolb, 1998).
Relating these findings to organisational behaviours, people with higher ability to respond to cues from others concerning their successful or unsuccessful performance can better adapt to the changing environment and in the end will be able to demonstrate improved performance. For instance, if the manager delivers consistently ineffective presentations, ability to tell from the audience’s reaction that they are indeed missing the purpose will contribute to the stimulus to improve presentational ability. In this way, input from others about one’s communicative abilities facilitated by high self-monitoring ability will allow the manager to improve one’s communication style. In the end, such improvement will result in more effective performance.
Importance of Accuracy in Self-Awareness
Adequate self-awareness is the key to successful communication. However, most, if not all, individuals have distorted perceptions of their own inadequacies or advantages that negatively affect the objectivity of their self-perception. An example illustrating this statement can be found in the research article by Bernardo J. Carducci “Fighting Shyness with Shyness: an Exercise in Survey Methodology and Self-Awareness” that appeared in Teaching of Psychology in 1996. Interviewing students on shyness, he found that self-reported shyness accounts revealed that “most students consider themselves to be shyer than their peers” (Carducci, 1996, 242). This demonstrates that students for the most part had a perception of themselves that was more negative than the real-life situation since most people cannot be shier than all the rest. Such low self-evaluation, however, negatively affected students’ self-esteem, serving as a potential hurdle on their performance and obstacle to communication.
One of the aims of such exercise was to inform students that “almost half the students in the class consider themselves to be shy. So if you are shy, you are not alone” (Carducci, 1996, 242). This revelation proved helpful as it helped students to pinpoint their position within the group more precisely. Being shy was not seen as normal in the group rather than an outstanding feature of a specific individual. In organisations, such negative self-image in comparison to the group in terms of shyness or other qualities can impair interpersonal communication. For example, a person aware of one’s shyness and exaggerating it as compared to the professional group will consider that his or her attempts at communication seem ridiculous because of this drawback. This may stifle a person’s attempts to make friends or build good working relationships, negatively affecting the career progress. On the other hand, improvement in self-awareness, boosted by the revelation that other people can also be shy, can make a person feel more adequate and help him or her improve communicative ability.
Building Self-Awareness in Intercultural Communication
Cross-cultural communication that is increasing in frequency in today’s multicultural environment is an area where the importance of self-awareness cannot be overestimated. Self-awareness here includes not only understanding of one’s personal skills and competencies, but also a realization of one’s c culture and ability to see it in the context of other cultures. Importantly, a person also has to be able to recognize the achieved level of intercultural competence and see areas in which further improvement is desirable. Insights into one’s own level of cross-cultural skills is a starting point of any effective training that will help a person master the complex art of communication across cultures and take it to a new level.
The importance of self-awareness in cross-cultural communication is recognized in experiential learning model that targets an increase in communication competence defined in terms of seven dimensions. The purpose of the exercise is threefold: it is designed to help students:
a) identify their communication behavior in intercultural interactions, (b) be aware of their communication competence level in intercultural interactions, and (c) increase their understanding of the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural business management success” (Parks, Zhao, 1995, p. 21).
The experiential model developed by Kolb in 1984 includes, among others, an exercise that requires students to complete a self-assessment questionnaire that will reveal to them their current level of intercultural competence. The exercise is based on the premise that “to develop intercultural communication skills, an assessment of existing communication behavior needs to be conducted first” (Parks, Zhao, 1995, p. 20).
Assisting managers in recognizing their level of intercultural competence can have an important effect for organisations. In this way, the staff members are alerted to problem areas that may hinder the communication with people from other cultures. Thus, if a person feels that he or she experiences problems in deciphering, for instance, non-verbal communication signs, this person may need to boost skills in this area. Self-awareness in this case will serve as a springboard for improvement.
Self Awareness and Its Influence on Language in Communication
Linguists have long noted that both written and oral communication is heavily influenced by the image of self that arises as a result of self-awareness. Authors with different images of themselves construct different texts that serve as vehicles of communication. In this linguistic context, two phenomena affecting the type of language used have been identified – narcissism and echolalia. These two phenomena have been identified in psychoanalysis and symbolic interactionism as parts of psychology. The difference between the two types is dramatic since they are in fact opposites: “narcissists exhibit selflove and a sense of superiority entirely out of line with reality; they devalue others or exhibit disinterest in them”, while echolalia represents “a type of language use in which speakers repeat back what they have heard without understanding its meaning” related to the problem of “too little self” (Strate, 2003, 5-6).
Both people suffering from narcissism and echolalia can exhibit problems in communication. These two trends need not be taken to their extremes where they lead to disorders and disabilities. On the contrary, narcissism can be identified in, for instance, a business memo whose writer seems too overtly focused on one’s own ideas and is ignoring the need to consider the ideas and situation of other people. Echolalia in its mild manifestation can lead to a person wilfully diminishing the impact of ideas and initiatives that he or she can undertake. “Too little self” can prove ruinous to the career as a person fails to incorporate original personal thinking into issues debated and prefers to rehash the points that have at one point been uttered by someone else, especially if this someone is a more important person.
In this light, the importance of adequate self-assessment that can be fostered through self-awareness becomes evident. Identifying proneness to narcissism or echolalia can become the first step toward realization of limitations and understanding of the more balanced relationship between oneself and others. Consideration of narcissism and echolalia once again leads to the conclusion that self-awareness is impossible without understanding of one’s position relative to other people and qualities present in one as compared to others; therefore, its impact on human communication can hardly be overrated.
Self-awareness is an integral part of abilities and skills required in effective group membership. Individuals with a more precise realization of their achievements and shortcomings are better equipped to capitalise on their strengths and weaknesses to improve their position within the group and contribute to its success. As communication is a key area that is crucial to such success, the ability of an individual to adequately evaluate one’s performance in interpersonal communication will have important repercussions to overall climate within the group. The importance of self-awareness for communication success is best demonstrated by the contribution of self-monitoring ability to a team member’s ability to influence the team. In oral and written communication, the presence or absence of narcissism and echolalia as examples of problematic self-awareness can directly affect the outcome of communication, determining its success or failure. Self-awareness cannot be overestimated as an integral part of intercultural competence that takes on increasing importance in this age when organisations continue to spread their operations across continents.