Most days we go through our lives wrapped in a comfortable little bubble of self interest. Nowhere is this better exemplified than during my morning commute. I can witness a whole host of self centered behavior ranging from driving below the speed limit in the passing lane to texting while driving. Often there will be an accident usually caused from a momentary lapse in awareness, and the burden of one person’s error gets spread to others, impacting their commute as well. But for the most part, the majority of us arrive safely to work and safely home each day. So if the world doesn’t fall apart when we lack awareness of others or even ourselves, why does awareness matter? To answer this, it may help to examine what awareness is and why it is beneficial.
Awareness is a consciousness of behavior and surroundings that impact ourselves and others. Often when I talk about awareness, I see it as the “gateway soft skill” because once put into practice, it strengthens all other soft skills. Those who routinely practice awareness find increased communication and collaboration among their colleagues. A deeper development of awareness allows us to extend trust and compassion towards others, creating the foundation of healthy community. When strong awareness skills are practiced it has been shown to increase positive and productive work environments, paving the road to more profitability. But business justifications aside, there are other practical reasons to incorporate more awareness into our daily lives.
When I was in my 20’s to early 30’s it would have been a kind understatement to say I “lacked awareness.” The truth was more like I didn’t care to even think about it. It wasn't even on my radar to think about how my behavior effected myself or others. Then I had a stroke at 28. Suddenly my old patterns of behavior needed to reexamined.
At the time, I was working towards my graduate thesis in puppetry. The stroke forced me to take an additional year to complete my production as well as rehabilitate. During my recovery (which included intensive puppetry training, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapies), it was brought to my attention I was combative with authority, I seemed bitter and jaded, and I lacked control over my communication with others. Thankfully this observation was presented to me by a friend who I respected and I was able to hear it and seek out a therapist. The decision to find a capable therapist began my work with understanding awareness and my puppetry training exposed me to exercises that allowed me to practice this skill daily.
As I continued my rehabilitation through both therapy and puppetry, I noticed two things starting to take shape which impacted my awareness. I was developing an understanding of my own emotions and how they affected myself and others. I also deepened my understanding of others emotions and behaviors, allowing me to build more meaningful connections with those I once saw as adversaries. My increased awareness allowed me to tap into accountability, build trust, and repair fractured relationships. The more I exercised the soft skill of awareness the more I noticed I was being invited into collaborative environments, increasing my value among colleagues.
It has been well over a decade since my stroke but the changes I have witnessed in myself since that cataclysmic event seem nothing short of miraculous, on the surface. I have gone on to thrive in an industry considered to be toxic while staying grounded, fostering sincere and loyal relationships. I have cultivated these skills in colleagues through nurturing a culture of compassion and collaboration at the studio I assist in coordinating. My awareness has given me a foundation to do this work, because I have practiced, developed, and strengthened this skill. I have also developed my own company which shares my knowledge of soft skills training with others. In truth, my miraculous personal transformation was really owed to strengthening my own soft skills, an additional benefit I received from puppetry training.
But the biggest justification I always circle back to when thinking about why the skill of awareness matters still returns to the simplest exchanges during my day. I imagine a daily commute that isn’t fraught with stress and anxiety stemming from having to overcompensate for others lack of awareness. I envision how conflicting ideas or opinions could be resolved if all parties extended awareness towards each other. I see professional environments that thrive on collaboration and communication. But perhaps most importantly, I see a community where accountably and connection are valued, leaving fewer people feeling isolated, ignored, or ineffective. Our world may not fall apart from a lack of awareness, but imagine the potential, if we all just leaned into this overlooked soft skill a little more.
Kate Katz is the owner of All Hands In, a soft skills development company, that trains professional teams and leaders on improved performance through soft skills.