Organisational Change Management Volume 2

16. Consciousness (self-awareness)

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. This involves looking at what self is, ie trying to define ourselves. Self is broken into 2 parts, ie

"...the self that knows (I) and the self that knows (me). The two have separate functions. The I-self does the thinking, the feeling, the acting. The me-self performs more objectified tasks - planning, choosing, exercising control..."

Robert Winston, 2003

. This "me-self" is referred to as self-awareness

. A sense of self allows us to misrepresent information, to deceive others for personal advantage, eg to lie, ie

"...only when we are unaware of ourselves can we measure our own behaviour against that of everyone else.......the role of the front lobes in regulating the impulses and drives of the lower brain......the frontal lobes develop slowly in the human, only reaching maturity when we hit the age of twenty, or possibly......even later. A sense of self and the ability to self-regulate develop in tandem with the neural networks of the brain.....Problems with understanding the self, and its relation to others......seem to be related to the traffic between the two halves of the brain......right hemisphere was biased towards identifying faces it saw as others and, conversely, the left hemisphere tended to identify faces and self......the results suggest that two separate brain systems are used to formulate our understanding of ourselves and others. When there is a smooth flow of traffic between the left and right hemispheres, our brains can create a harmonious view of the world..."

Robert Winston, 2003

Five observable properties of consciousness

i) sentience - it is the unique perspective that we each have about our own experiences; differences in wiring in the brain create differences in perception

ii) variable access - this refers to the unconscious processes in the brain.

NB the neuronal activity inside the brain cannot be seen or felt, ie you cannot consciously sense the way neurons and neurotransmitters store and retrieve information

iii) unified experience - sensory and cognitive activities are unified into a continuous experience

iv) self- objectivity -

"...I am not just an experiencing I but an experienced Me, who can report on my mental experiences..."

Robert Winston, 2003

v) intentionality - this implies a difference between what a sensory facility is telling us and what we do with the incoming information, ie how we interpret


"...consciousness is not an instantaneous experience - it takes time to build itself, and the brain covers a great time lag..."

Robert Winston, 2003

There are 2 levels of processing, ie conscious and unconscious. We tend to keep the conscious part for the more demanding or unique tasks. If a task is repeated many times, it moves from the conscious part to the unconscious, ie it has become "second nature" and you do not have to think about it!!!!!!!! Furthermore, anticipation based on previous experience can be involved, eg

"...research with both cricketers and tennis players indicates that top class performers are more deeply skilled at anticipation. The best players make the earliest and most accurate predictions about what is about to happen..."

Robert Winston, 2003

Research (Joanne Gray, 2016a) has shown that the unconscious is better at insight-based, problem-solving than conscious, analytically-based deliberation. Thus we need to switch off your the "try harder" cycle. To have an insight to help with problem-solving, you need to find ways to relax the brain like meditation, taking a break, doing some exercise, doing something differently, sleeping on the problem, gardening, having a shower, etc.


(source: Sylia Duckworth, 2017)

. Research under consciousness studies that involves cognitive science and neural biology has shown the high level of brain connectivity, plasticity, malleability and responsiveness.

i) connectivity refers to the mind being comprised of multiple parts and that our consciousness is a unique product of the interaction between these parts

ii) neural plasticity involves billions of neural connections determining wants and how we think

iii) malleability refers to the fact that the brain continues to grow, form new connections and then disconnect through out our lifetime, and is highly changeable to conscious adjustments, eg people working with a focused attention can substantially reduce their experience of pain and the likelihood of relapse for a range of physical and mental conditions

iv) highly responsive - what we think about and how expansively we keep thinking as we age is dependent on social contexts and interaction with other people - demonstrating the significance of the mind-body link.

There is a mis-conception

" we age, we all start to come functionally fixed and this narrows our learning and our ability to adapt..."

Todd Sampson has quoted by Patrick Durkin, 2015b

But this view has been challenged as neuroscience has demonstrated that even aging brains can develop new connections, ie plasticity.

(sources: Robert Winston, 2003; Amanda Sinclair, 2007a)

More on Self-awareness


Self-awareness is knowing who you are and how you are seen. It is important for job performance, career success, leadership effectiveness, etc
Research has shown

"...Although 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.........Most people display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

"...un-self-aware colleagues are just frustrating; they can cut a team's chance of success in half......the consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one's job..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

The starting point to tackle this lack of self-awareness is to understand the problem by determining the source of the problem, ie what is behind the tension?

NB in addition to lack of self-awareness, interpersonal conflicts can arise owing to different priorities, incompatible communication styles, lack of trust, etc

Some behaviours of un-self-aware individuals are

"...    i) they won't listen to, or accept, critical feedback
        ii) they cannot empathise with, or take the perspective of, others
        iii) they have difficulty 'reading a room' and tailoring their message to the audience
        iv) they possess an inflated opinion of the contributions and performance
        v) they are harmful to others without realising it
        vi) they take credit for success and blame others for failures..."

Tasha Eurich, 2018

They are different from other difficult colleagues, like office jerks, who know exactly what they are doing and are not willing to change. These people tend to rule by fear, intimidation, humiliation, etc. Usually they will unapologetically acknowledge their behaviour and have no intention of changing their behaviour.

In contrast, un-self-aware don't see how they are perceived by others; they need to realise that they need to change before any improvement can be undertaken.

To help somebody to improve their self-awareness levels, you need to consider

- are you the right messenger? (you must have the right relationship with the other party, ie be trusted by them and able to give critical feedback to them, ie

"...they must fundamentally believe that you have their best interests at heart. When trust is present, the other person feels more comfortable being vulnerable, a pre-requisite to accept one is unaware behaviour..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

- are you willing to accept the worst-case scenario? (the other party's reaction can vary from anger, tears, silent treatment, yelling, etc to career limiting reactions, eg staff leaving, sabotaging, being fired, etc; power differentials are an important element, ie confronting your boss is riskier than with your peers, colleagues, direct reports, etc.

Once understanding the problem, you then progress to

i) having a private conversation with them

ii) choosing the best time to have the conversation, ie when they are most receptive, eg
"...wait until your colleague expresses feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction......caused by their unawareness..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

This can be a good opportunity to offer an observation (don't use the word 'feedback' as this risks an adverse reaction)

iii) when expressing this observation, focus on their specific, observable behaviour and how it is limiting their success and
"...end the conversation by reaffirming your support and asking how you can help..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

If they do not accept your help, you need to minimise their on-going negative impact.

Using mindfulness to reframe their behaviour, ie

"...Specifically, noticing what you are feeling in a given moment allows you to reframe the situation and be more resilient..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

iv) find their humanity by adopting the mindset of compassion without judgement. It has been found

"...honing our compassion skills helps us remain calm in the face of difficult people and situations..."
Tasha Eurich, 2018

Need to have a positive approach

v) play the long game (people do change; sometimes unaware behaviours need to be highlighted multiple times before remedial action happens)


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