Self awareness

Self awareness is about understanding who we are and how we feel. It’s about understanding how we work with others and shifting anything that’s not working. It is about learning how to give feedback in a way that will heard and inspire positive change.

In the work of regional innovation, we’re often supporting others to build their self awareness. We know that greater self awareness can drive changes in attitudes and behaviours, essential in creating change at a community level.

The ideas and stories below were shared by members of the Network during a peer learning session on 19 June 2018. The Network identified a few consistent principles that help — whether we’re working on our own self awareness, with others, or with the community.


Quick summary

What does it mean?

  • Understanding our reactions
  • Seeing ourselves through others’ eyes
  • Anticipating others reactions
  • Offering constructive feedback

What helps

  • Building positive self awareness
  • Creating safe relationships
  • Connecting to goals
  • Working through it together

What hinders

  • Getting stuck in self-improvement
  • Leaving it too long to seek feedback
  • Avoiding giving feedback


What does it mean?

Understanding our reactions

We’re not always aware of how we feel, why we feel it, and the impact those feelings can have on ourselves and others. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge that we are feeling vulnerable, anxious, confused — or even excited. How we handle our emotions and the reactions that can flow on from them can make all the difference in how we work with others. In particular, when it comes to effective communication and relationships. When we’re more aware of how we feel, we’re better at responding rather than reacting.

In working with young people, practitioners often use narrative therapy to help young people learn to name and understand their own emotions. Narrative therapy involves piecing together the story about how and why we have done something. This technique then helps us to name the emotions, and see how our emotions have influenced our actions. Putting together these narratives can help us spot the emotion and stop the behaviour. See links below for more information on narrative therapy.


Seeing ourselves through others’ eyes

Even when we are acting with our best intentions, others can still misread us. Sometimes our own words and actions can be a barrier between us and other people, as well as a barrier to creating the change we want to see. When we find that we’re not reaching someone, or that our actions aren’t having the impact we expected, through honest reflection and intentional changes we can shift our behaviours and communication style to be more effective.

– Shane Phillips, Lake Cargelligo Community Connector


Anticipating others reactions

When we’re working with others, it can be helpful to think about how they might react to something we say, an idea we have or feedback we need to provide. Do they currently feel respected and heard, or do they often react defensively? How are they likely to hear what we have to say? Are they likely to hear criticism, or are they likely to misunderstand? How might we offer what we have to say in a way that they can hear us? What do they need from us? How might we create a safe relationship with them? How might we communicate in a way that they feel heard and respected? How can they contribute to what we have to say?


Offering constructive feedback

Feedback can be hard to hear. It can be difficult to use if we don’t know what needs to change. Feedback can be hard to make sense of if we don’t see how it fits in the broader scheme of things.


When giving feedback, consider:

  • Asking permission to give feedback
  • Choosing a place and time in which the person will be most receptive
  • Starting by creating safety — let them know your intent, and that the relationship is not at risk
  • Putting your feedback in context: is this a big deal, or is it a little thing? What’s at stake?
  • Discussing their strengths alongside critical feedback
  • Naming the behaviour and giving examples of when it gets in the way of the outcomes you’re trying to see
  • Listening to their perspective — what’s happening for them?
  • Supporting them to reflect on what they might do differently, offering support where needed
  • Reiterating your intent, that the relationship is secure and that they are valued
  • Checking back in
  • Following through with support


If you’re considering whether something needs to be said, Tara Brach suggests asking yourself:

“Does it need to be said?

Does it need to be said by me?

Does it need to be said now?”


What helps?

We heard a few key principles that help support building self awareness, whether your working with yourself, a young person, a group or the community at large.

Building positive self awareness

Many of the young people that we are trying to engage have a highly negative view of themselves. Much of the work in reaching them and building a relationship with them is in helping them to see themselves in a positive light and to believe in their own strengths. This is one of the reasons why practitioners often talk about taking a strengths-based approach. To be able to work with some of our young people, we have to find ways to help them convert a negative sense of self into a positive one.

Creating safe relationships

The same principle applies to all the people we work with. It’s hard to develop and share ideas when you’re not sure if your ideas matter or are welcome. It’s also difficult to share ideas and feedback or hear ideas and feedback when we don’t feel safe. We need to feel safe in order to use the creative part of our brains. When we feel unsafe, our brains hijack our ability to be creative and work with others.

In working with young people, we may find that sometimes they don’t feel the trust or safety in relationships to a greater extreme. To be able to help them build self awareness, we first have to create that trust and safety in the relationship. Young people need to have that confidence that you won’t give up on them, and that the relationship is safe even if they don’t get things right. Although it comes across in different ways, it is the same with adults and working in community.

It takes self-awareness on our part to practice creating safe environments for ourselves and others.


Connecting to goals

Remembering what we’re trying to do — or creating that vision if a vision is not there — can help us know why we need to do something. When we’re focusing on our own self-awareness, or working with others, it really helps to go back to the “why?” Why do we need to change something? That’s what will motivate us to get beyond our habits, beyond our ideas of one another, and beyond ourselves. How can we keep it from being personal – and stay focused on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve together.


Working through it together

When something needs to shift, being supported can make a huge difference. If you’re working on your own self awareness, look for someone who will help you do that. If you’ve provided feedback to someone, stick it out with them as they work to change.


What hinders?

Getting stuck in self-improvement

Having self-awareness is important, but it is possible to overdo self-reflection, always looking for things to fix and improve. Beware of over-thinking!


Leaving it too long to seek feedback

Look for the right timing to seek feedback. Generally immediately is best. There are times, however, when it makes more sense to let things settle or let things play out in order to get more useful feedback. Just don’t leave it too long!


Avoiding giving feedback

Sometimes the only way to truly build trust is to provide feedback and then work through it with them.



There are lots of resources and methods to help us build our emotional awareness as well as that of others. Taking time out from the action, and seeking feedback from others are two of the most important things we can do.

Reading / listening (TACSI staff picks):


Methods for building self-awareness

A few of our favourite methods:

  • Journalling – getting our thoughts and feelings onto paper
  • Intentional peer support (meeting regularly over a subject/topic/book)
  • Being part of a “Fail Club” (LINK: Lessons from a Fail Club PDF)
  • Signposting conversations — choosing a few people around you to have an informal conversation about how successful you are through your actions and communication style and what you might work on to better achieve your goals. Ideally signposting conversations are two-ways — sharing for both people.
  • After action reviews – to understand how effective a group effort has been, and how community and partners experienced the work together


Related capabilities