How to Manage An Employee Who Lacks Self-Awareness

Today’s episode will focus on a prevalent yet challenging scenario that plagues all of us: How do you deal with an employee who lacks self-awareness? 

As leaders, we’ve all been there, and I’m confident you’ve seen this scenario time and time again. 

However, objectively assessing the situation can get tricky. Sometimes, it may even boil down to a difference in communication styles or personal values and not necessarily a lack of self-awareness.

Fortunately, there are some strategies and specific techniques you can apply when dealing with a situation like this.

In this episode of the Leadership Jam Session Podcast, I’m joined by a group of seasoned leaders to discuss how to manage an employee with a low degree of self-awareness effectively. We’ll talk about why it’s essential to validate your perceptions with other managers and how to have a fruitful coaching discussion with your employee.

Are you truly dealing with an employee who isn’t self-aware? 

So, what does having an employee with a low degree of self-awareness even mean? 

We could define self-awareness as the ability to accurately recognize emotions, thoughts, and values and how our behavior impacts others.

 It’s also a willingness to look inward and accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations and leveraging those insights to develop a growth mindset.

So an employee who isn’t self-aware will most likely avoid owning their mistakes and will often communicate poorly and negatively. 

They will tend not to be good listeners, which can lead them to make decisions that will affect others without their values and emotions. In other words, a lack of emotional intelligence.

These employees usually make excuses for their failures; they shut people down and criticize others. While they may have inflated opinions of themselves, they also struggle to control their emotions.

So, the first step to dealing with a situation like this is to determine whether this person is genuinely unaware. 

It’s a good idea to consider other factors that could explain their behavior; after all, everyone has different communication styles, beliefs, and values. So you need to make sure that you’re not mistaking something else other than a lack of self-awareness.

And it’s also important to remember that sometimes people can have unresolved issues and conflicts in their lives. While this doesn’t always justify their actions, it helps establish a broader context when understanding their behavior.

The best way to achieve this is to validate your observations with your peers and other managers before talking to your employee about it. We all can get caught up in our perceptions, so this step is essential when dealing with these scenarios.

Understanding unawareness in employees

There are usually two types of employees that could be described as ‘unaware.’ The first type is legitimately unaware of the impact of their behavior on others.

But the second type is even more dangerous; someone who knows that their behavior is detrimental to their team, but still they’re not willing to change their ways. 

These can be the trickiest cases to deal with because coaching an employee like this will take time and effort since their behavior and perceptions are likely to be deeply ingrained.

Unawareness in employees often happens due to a lack of leadership and communication; many managers don’t want to have that conversation due to its uncomfortable nature. Most times, they’ll pass it to the next person. 

This means that this unawareness keeps building on from one leader to the next, so when this employee is confronted about their behavior, they might tell you they were never told about it!

 There may even be occasions where you’re dealing with high-performing employees who nevertheless have a negative attitude towards their environment because they were never properly coached or confronted about it by other managers.

So, the next step is knowing what kind of person you’re dealing with, whether they have negative baggage in the workspace, how their peers perceive them, or if they’ve been properly coached.

Defining this will help you determine which strategies could be more effective when coaching your employee. So, what are some techniques that can be leveraged in a scenario like this?

The 3 techniques to manage an employee who lacks self-awareness

Once you’ve validated your observations and decided what kind of unaware employee you’re dealing with, the last step is to have the actual coaching discussion with your employee. 

Here are a few techniques that will make the process easier and the coaching session much more likely to yield positive results.

1. Set your expectations early on

Whenever you’re working with a new team, it’s essential to let them know that feedback is necessary and welcome, that it’s a part of the workplace culture, and that it goes both ways.

Setting up those expectations right out of the gate allows you to remind your employee about them in any future coaching sessions whenever they’re not meeting those expectations.

2. Know when to act

How well your employee will receive your observations depends greatly on timing and consistency.

Timing is everything when it comes to giving feedback around self-awareness; if you have this conversation with your employee all of a sudden, they will probably react negatively. You need to look at it as a gradual process and not something that happens overnight.

If you approach providing feedback as a consistent process and do it in a familiar setting, they will be much more receptive to your input and will also trust you more.

3. Lower their defenses

When having this discussion, it’s crucial to explain to your employee that you’re coming from a good place, that you care about them, and that you want them to succeed.

Finally, you can use some leverage in terms of what motivates them, like a promotion or some career opportunity.

Key Takeaways 

– Episode intro (00:00)

– How do you know when an employee isn’t self-aware? (01:27)

– Why it can be challenging to have this discussion (02:50)

– Why perspective is crucial (07:41)

– How to have a successful coaching discussion (16:13)

– Why feedback is all about trust (18:56)

– How to increase your employee’s engagement (21:39)

– Why timing is vital (27:57)

– Episode recap (31:57)

Leadership Resources

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About the author, Rob

Rob Fonte is the founder and President of Sarto Leadership Group, whose reputation has been built on being a transformational leader and inspirational coach with a passion for developing others. His twenty-year career spans across multiple disciplines including leading award-winning sales teams. Rob is an academically trained Executive Coach certified by The University of Texas and the International Coach Federation.