How Learning About Ourselves Helps Us Build Better Relationships

To be able to improve ourselves, we have to learn. Leaders and employees who aspire to continually better themselves and their teams are curious learners. Curious learners continuously work to improve both professional and personal lives. They are those who are more interested in what they can learn rather than proving what they already know.

We each have a unique learning style, and everyone starts at a different point in their journey to learn, but to learn something new, a person moves through four phases of learning:

  1. Experience
  2. Observation and Reflection
  3. Development of Ideas
  4. Testing Ideas/Practice

For the purpose of self-betterment and bettering our personal relationships, it’s especially important to focus on the first two. Experience is the phase that we often focus on. How many years was someone in a role? How many times were they successful doing a job? What specific skills did they gain in their tenure? Experience is so often related to learning because it is easily accounted for by years, or milestones, or a number of skills. It can be portrayed in a graph or defined in a document. There’s no doubt that experience is a critical part of the learning process.

The one thing that people often miss is that experience doesn’t necessarily mean anything if it doesn’t have a direction. This is where reflection comes in. For those of us who are curious learners, reflection is key to really understanding ourselves and what we need to improve upon to get better. It is an introspective look at yourself and where your experiences have led you, as well as a good indicator of what goals you should be setting for yourself to move in the direction you want to go. In effect, it makes your experience more productive.

Reflection is especially effective in building our confidence and self-awareness as leaders, employees, and people which is one component of Emotional Intelligence which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express emotions and use them to guide interpersonal relationships empathetically. Emotional intelligence is the single most critical factor of success in professional and personal relationships, which makes self-reflection an important step towards building better relationships.  As we seek to improve our lives and our relationships, we must start by understanding ourselves, and learn from what we do well and where can improve.

Reflection can come in many forms and everyone has a different experience in the process. It can be as simple as talking through an experience with someone we trust, journaling, or even having a quiet moment to yourself to introspect.

Often times in our professional lives, it is hard to find time to reflect. Some organizations have a forced reflection through the performance review process, which is often done on an annual basis.  The problem with that is, reflection is most helpful when it is done as close to real-time to the experience as possible.

Instead of retrospectively reflecting a year down the line, taking 5 or 10 minutes every week to reflect on what has gone well at work, what hasn’t, and what we want to do differently next week, can pay off in big ways for us and for our teams.

Still having trouble getting started? Consider trying this exercise:

1. Imagine the Ideal:

Be intentional about learning and growth by understanding what you are aiming for. Try defining:

  1. Map out your ideal life 3-5 years out – what will you be doing for work and fun; where will you be living; what will be your most important and energizing relationships
  2. Identify your core values – the 4-5 words that you want to live by
  3. Highlight your strengths – when, where, and with whom are you at your best?
  4. Write out your purpose statement:  the 6-8 word statement that sums up our reason for waking up every day.

2. Reflect on the “Real”:

  1. What does your life look like today in relation to your ideal life (work, family, relationships, fun, health)?
  2. How and where are you living your core values today, and how and when are you not?
  3. How, where, and when are you at your best, aligned with your strengths, and how, where, when are you not?

3. Create a Plan for Bridging the Gap:

  1. Create milestones/long-term goals to move toward your ideal
  2. Create short-term goals to work towards each milestone.
  3. Reflect regularly on how you’re effectively working your plan, how your plan is still serving you, where you might need to adjust your plan, and what you need to learn to continue to move toward your ideal.

As John Dewey, the philosopher, wrote:

We all have room to become better leaders and create better personal and professional relationships. Reflection is just one way to begin the process.

Looking for more tips on how to become a better leader? Check out our blog The Most Important Qualities of a Great Leader.

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Author Erica Yesko

Erica Yesko is our head of Operations. She believes in the power of culture, talent, and leadership in building viable organizations. She has deep subject matter expertise in organization design, change management, business development, and leadership development. Erica has focused her career on designing scalable organizations, building managed cultures, coaching high-potential leaders, building highly effective teams, and managing change. She also teaches and coaches Leadership Development at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.

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