3 Reasons You Need External Self-Awareness

External self-awareness

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External self-awareness is something you need in your life.

If I told you that there is a second type of self-awareness, and possessing it could significantly enhance your relationships, would you be interested?

And I don’t just mean a different aspect of self-awareness. I mean an entirely different kind of self-awareness altogether.

In all the hype over the self-awareness definition, a key player is being neglected from the conversation. It’s like when everyone focused on Michael Jordan and forgot about Scotty Pippin. Or, for you millennial non-sports fans, it’s like when everyone focused on Tik Tok and neglected their Instagram.

This forgotten stepchild is called external self-awareness. If you want to improve your relationships and set yourself up for success in life, keep reading. This post will not only explain the external self-awareness meaning, but it will also teach you how to be more self-aware in your life.

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What is external self-awareness?

External self-awareness is our ability to understand how others see us. If we have external self-awareness, we are aware of how our behaviors and actions are received by others. We also can realize our impact on the people around us.

External self-awareness can encompass single actions, generalized behaviors, or large-scale impacts.

For example, a single action would be like when I told my friend, “The cheese soup looks gross,” and the chef was standing right behind me. Aware of the situation (albeit a bit too late), I understood how my comment might have negatively impacted him.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that it didn’t taste good, I just meant that it didn’t taste as good as it looked…” (Sometimes there’s no recovery).

It’s also external self-awareness when you know how people feel about your behaviors.

For example, if you understand that your off-color jokes might make people feel uncomfortable, or that your lunch-eating etiquette is off-putting (okay listen, I like my messy wraps, and they’re too good to change!).

Finally, external self-awareness encompasses understanding on a larger scale.

You are self-aware of how you make other people feel, what role you play in their life, and how your choices affect their perception of you.

What’s the difference between internal self-awareness and external self-awareness?

The broad meaning of self-awareness might seem obvious. If you are self-aware, you understand yourself. But this self-awareness definition falls terribly short.

As we know, internal self-awareness is when we are aware of our own thoughts and emotions and how they affect our behaviors. There are some key examples of self-awareness in everyday life, such as identifying your emotions, patterns, and reactions.

All self-awareness is extremely important, but the two types are actually unrelated to each other concerning our ability to be self-aware.

The difference between internal and external self-awareness is kind of like the difference between my Mario Cart driving and actual driving.

I can crush it on Mario Cart, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to whip around cliffside roads at 90mph in my Subaru Forester while avoiding stray turtle shells.

Even though both activities involve some of the same basic principles (steering, stepping on the pedals, following the road), they require vastly different skills. Just like different self-awareness activities require vastly different self-awareness skills.

I can be Beyonce-talent level in terms of internal self-awareness, but that doesn’t mean I know jack about my place in the world.

Mario cart

 

Self-Awareness Test: How Self Aware Are You?

Interested in checking out how self-aware you are, both internally and externally? Take this Free 20-question Self-Awareness Test to see. (No strings attached to get your results!). This self-awareness test covers both internal self-awareness and external self-awareness.

But first, read more below about why self-awareness is important and how you can become more externally self-aware.

 

Benefits of having External Self-Awareness

There are multiple reasons why self-awareness can improve your life, but let’s look at three benefits of developing your external self-awareness.

1. External self-awareness will help you develop stronger relationships

It’s no surprise that being self-aware of how others perceive you will have a considerable impact on your relationships.

The more in touch you are with how you make others feel, the more you will be able to make decisions that help create positive feelings.

This can be true for all types of your relationships, whether it be your best friend or an acquaintance at work. You will have to decide what a relationship means to you, but once you know that, you can act accordingly.

For example, let’s say you want to build your relationship with your brother. You’ve had a tumultuous relationship over the years.

Sure, you’ve moved on from the personal space, I’m-not-touching-you-but-my-finger-is-in-your-face battles in the backseat of the car. But there’s still some residue left from these childhood confrontations.

Sometimes you get along great, but other times he seems to withdraw from you or push back against some of your conversations.

External self-awareness can help you to understand what triggers negative or positive reactions.

Imagine how much better it would be if you were self-aware about what triggered these reactions. Maybe every time you bring up theater, it reminds your brother of your family’s favoritism toward your acting career. Or when you ask about his job, it feels to him like you’re trying to one-up him.

External self-awareness won’t solve these issues (everyone needs to be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors).

External self-awareness can, however, help you understand which of your actions would help your relationship and which might hurt it.

Understanding how others perceive you can also help you in your interactions with colleagues, coworkers, and acquaintances.

Whatever your desired impact, you can better achieve it by being self-aware of how you affect others.

2. External self-awareness will help you be more successful

If you understand how others perceive you, you’ll more likely get what you want from them. I don’t mean this in a manipulative way (or a voodoo spell, “gaze into my eyes and give me the onion rings” type way either, for the record).

Human interactions are all about give and take. Self-awareness requires a degree of vulnerability to build trust in these interactions.

At work, you need to get things from your colleagues. On teams, you need everyone to contribute to the end goal. In relationships, you need both parties to put time and effort into a connection.

Let’s talk about a work scenario. On the surface level, you can ask for what you need. But we all know that humans don’t operate on a surface level. That would be too easy and boring, am I right?

How other people feel about you and your request will significantly alter their response.

Imagine if you’re rolling into a meeting (literally rolling… it’s a rollerblading company). One person drops a box in front of you and says, with no niceties or greetings, “Complete this by tomorrow.” A second person smiles, asks about your squeaky wheel (because they know the back left one has been causing you trouble), and then asks you, “We need someone to complete this task, will you do it?”

Which person would you feel more invested in completing the tasks for?

In this situation, it’s not about being fake or indirect; it’s about making sure everyone feels valued and respected (and that everyone’s rollerblades are in order).

If you possess a strong sense of external self-awareness, you can make sure that the people around you feel the way you want them to feel.

Whether that be respected, loved, appreciated, empowered, etc., you will be more likely to achieve this result and, ultimately, get what you want from your interactions. This is why self-awareness in leadership and self-awareness in the workplace is so important.

3. External self-awareness will help you have more positive day-to-day interactions

Have you ever heard the term “read the room”? It originated as a saying in an office, meant to instruct people to scan the faces at a meeting table.

Now, it stands for one’s ability to have self-awareness about how the people around you are feeling.

We’ve covered how external self-awareness can benefit your relationships and interactions in which you want something. It can also help you on a smaller scale in your day-to-day interactions.

External self-awareness will make your day-to-day conversations more enjoyable.

Let’s say you’re buying a coffee. You’ve just come back from a ten-mile bike ride, you’re having a great hair day, and in general, you’re just in a really swell mood. When you get up to the cash register, you start asking the barista about their day and making jokes about the names of the new coffee flavor. “Seriously, who came up with Darth Vader’s Dark Side Roast? Brilliant.”

Someone who is externally self-aware might recognize that the barista is not in the mood for jokes, is not in a good mood, and is not having a good hair day. In realizing this, you should probably cut the quips and complete the transaction. Both the barista and you will be better off for it.

external self-awareness

We have numerous interactions every day, many of which are with people we don’t really know that well.

The more you can “read the room” and pick up on how the other person is responding to you, the more positive interactions you will have (and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to create new connections from them). These improved interactions is just one of the many benefits of self-awareness.

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How to develop your external self-awareness

There are a variety of ways you can improve your internal self-awareness, but developing your external self-awareness can be a little trickier.

Namely, because external self-awareness doesn’t just involve you.

It’d be like trying to practice your handshake with yourself: inefficient and misguided (and yes, yes I did just attempt to do this).

Anyone who believes they can become more externally self-aware with just themselves is probably the person who is most unaware. (Might be you? Check out 6 Signs that You Lack Self-Awareness in Everyday Life.)

So how do you develop your external self-awareness without turning into a walking satisfaction survey?

Check out two main ways to improve your self-awareness below. Some may look familiar from my previous post, but here they are specific to external self-awareness.

2 Ways to Develop your External Self-Awareness

1. Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback is essential if you want to know what other people are thinking. How else will you know for sure if you don’t ask?

Often, the word “feedback” has a connotation similar to concrete: either wet, gross, and sticky, or solidified into a drab, hard wall that you may or may not want to bang your head against.

I would argue this is because asking for feedback makes us feel uncomfortable, so we villainize it to protect ourselves.

Feedback, however, does not need to be sticky or hard.

In fact, there are several ways you can ask for feedback to develop your external self-awareness.

You can ask simple questions such as:

  • How do I come across?
  • What would you say about my ____?
  • What do you think I do well? Need to work on?
  • How would you describe me?

You can ask questions like these in casual conversations with friends, meetings with coworkers, or more formalized surveys.

If you are in a position of power, you can administer an anonymous survey to protect the participants and encourage more honesty.

It can be nerve-racking to receive feedback of any kind, especially if it’s negative.

The more you can look at it as a process of growth, however, rather than a personal attack, the more you will develop your external self-awareness. It’s hard to be vulnerable with feedback, but it’s necessary to live a purposeful life.

external self-awareness

As a teacher, I give my students surveys throughout the year. They provide me with feedback on my teaching skills and curriculum.

Whenever I get a particularly low score, I always find myself huffing and puffing about how wrong they are. It’s okay to have these emotions, as long as you learn how to process them before reacting (and blowing all the pigs’ houses down).

The 3 R’s of Feedback

  • ReceiveBe open to the feedback and allow yourself to take it all in. remember, it will help you be more self-aware.
  • Reflect – Give yourself time to reflect on what you heard. Do you agree? If you disagree, do you have a valid reason for believing it to be false? What can you learn from it?
  • Respond – After you have reflected (and know your emotions are not getting in the way), respond to the feedback. This might include changing your behaviors, having a follow-up conversation, or being more self-aware moving forward.

2. Practice observing the people around you

We don’t usually have access to other people’s thoughts. Until I put the finishing touches on my mind-reading helmet, you’re going to have to rely on different ways to learn how people are receiving you.

I know what you’re thinking. Kara, how can I know what Shayla is thinking if she doesn’t tell me and your mind-reading helmet doesn’t come in my size?

Fortunately for us, humans can receive an enormous amount of feedback without directly asking for it.

  • Observe body language

Did you know that the largest percentage of communication is nonverbal?

Focusing on body language can help you become more self-aware about what people are thinking and feeling.

While it may seem obvious, I bet if you go to work tomorrow and really look at people’s body language, you’ll pick up on things you haven’t noticed before. (Seriously, I’ll bet you $5 – email me if you don’t believe me).

Some gestures are obvious (an eye roll, for example), but others can be just as obvious if you’re observant.

You can develop your external self-awareness by taking inventory of the bodies around you and how people are reacting to you.

There are some fast and dirty tricks to reading body language. If someone’s arms are crossed, it can be a sign that they are defensive. If they are covering their mouth, it usually means they are holding back on something they want to say.

Feet are actually the most truthful part of the human body; if a person points their feet toward you, they are invested in the conversation. If they are turned away or aimed at the door, it probably means they want to leave.

Observe body language for external self-awareness

  • Compare and contrast

Another good way to develop your external self-awareness is to compare and contrast the responses you get for different actions.

Let’s say you propose a new idea in a declarative manner. How did the people around you respond?

The next time you offer a suggestion, do it more openly. Was there a difference in responses?

You can also compare and contrast how different people respond to the same action. For example, if you tell people about your cat dying, how do they react? A close friend probably will show you sympathy, while an acquaintance might give you a one word, “Sorry.”

As you compare and contrast, you can take into account a variety of responses through people’s actions, words, and body language, among other things. This is necessary to help you become more self-aware.

  • Notice patterns

Finally, you can develop your external self-awareness by taking note of patterns. People always say, “Actions speak louder than words,” but like… actions speak louder than words.

Observe the actions of the people around you and see if any recurring themes emerge, particularly in response to something you did or said. These recurring themes are key in helping you become more self-aware.

Let’s say you and Tommy used to hang out and have a great time together. When you move back to the area, you reach out to Tommy a few times to hang out. Every time you invite him, he always has something else that he has to do.

It shouldn’t take you until the “I need to drive my grandmother to get her roots tinted at 8pm on a Friday night” to notice that, maybe, Tommy doesn’t want to hang out with you.

This example might sound far-fetched, but noticeable patterns happen all around you every day.

If you are conscious of these patterns, you can develop your external self-awareness.

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Conclusion

External self-awareness is one’s ability to understand how other people perceive you and your actions. It’s entirely separate from internal self-awareness but is just as important.

Being more self-aware of your impact on others has three main benefits. External self-awareness can help you:

  • Strengthen your relationships
  • Be more successful
  • Have more positive interactions

There are two invaluable ways you can develop your external self-awareness.

First, you will need to receive feedback from the people around you.

This can come directly in the form of asking for feedback, in which you need to receive, reflect, and respond to it.

Second, you can receive feedback through the observation of others.

By taking note of body language, comparable reactions, and patterns, you can learn about how others perceive you.

Both internal and external self-awareness are hugely important in achieving happiness and success in life. Don’t believe me? Post a question in the comments below to challenge me – I can’t wait to reply!

Did you know 90% of people think they are self-aware, but only 10-15% of us actually are? Take this free self-awareness test to see where you might be lacking self-awareness in your life.

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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When have you received feedback, and how did you react to the feedback?

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How adept are you at external self-awareness?

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How observant are you of people’s reactions toward your actions?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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How can people improve in their observation of body language?

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What are the most effective strategies for delivering and receiving feedback?

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How do humans act differently toward people they like versus people they don’t like?

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