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The role of self-awareness tools in coaching

What are self-awareness tools and how can you and your coach use them to improve your coaching experience and progression?



In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I'm going to be talking about self-awareness tools. First of all - I'll tell you - I think they're really important, then I'm going to give some examples of the sorts of tools I've used over the years and how they fit into a coaching program.

So, let's get started. What are self-awareness tools? Well, surprisingly, the clue is in the name, they are techniques that help you get a better perspective on who you are, how you behave, how you think, and how you feel because the start point for any personal development program is understanding where you're starting from. Therefore, who you are right now is the exact starting point for any coaching program; that's going to effectively take you on a personal development trajectory.

When I'm starting a coaching program with individuals or even teams, I often recommend the use of self-awareness tools. I don't use all of them all of the time, and they can be very particular to individual situations, but here are some of the tools that I would reach for.

First of all, a 360-degree feedback survey is one of the most insightful, if scary, tools that you can use because clearly 360-degree feedback is exactly that - you ask people that you work with; peers, superiors, subordinates, and people inside the organisation, people outside the organisation, people that you trust, people you respect, but not necessarily like, and people whose feedback you are looking for. They complete an online survey, which usually takes usually around half an hour, and addresses your behaviours, your attitudes, and what they see in you, in a number of different aspects. It could be to do with integrity. It could be to do with creativity. It could be to do with interpersonal skills and so on and so on until you get a rounded review in the sense of it comes from a lot of people. It's not just one opinion, but it's rounded because it tackles several aspects of you and your personality and behaviours.

Most surveys would then score what the other people think. You would also complete the survey of what you believe about yourself. And there are two benchmarks. What do you think you are good at, not so good at, how do you think you behave in certain ways, and what do other people see? Against all of these individual criteria, you can see if there is any material difference - Are you really a different person to other people than yourself?

This isn't about being overly self-deprecating. You need to be honest and straightforward in completing a 360, but more importantly, it's understanding why people would have a different view of you. What do they see that you aren't aware of?

The beauty of a 360 in a coaching program is that it's so helpful for the coach to objectively point out what's being said to the coachee, the good things, as important as the not-so-good things. It's so much easier to do more of the things you're good at than it is to work on the things that you're not so good at. If they're not so good at things that aren't really very important, don't worry about them. Move on and concentrate on the things that you can do well.

Another well-worn path would be to go down a psychometric assessment. There are many of these different tools; Thomas International, DiSC, Colorworks, and Belbin. There are many well-established, well-proven psychometric assessments, and most of them can assess you from one questionnaire across a whole multitude of different aspects and provide a series of different reports. For example, what would your management style typically be? What is your propensity in terms of being a good salesperson? How would you react under stress and so on and so on?

The plus side of psychometric testing is that it very objectively helps you see yourself. I mean, it's not good or bad. It's not right or wrong, pass or fail - it's like an x-ray, it's just a picture. It just is what it is. And it's a self-assessment. You did this assessment. It's what you felt was true. It’s a mirror image if you like; looking in the mirror and seeing yourself back, but in a very objective, a very balanced kind of way, particularly aimed at how you behave the work.

I am using the word ‘behave’ because often what you will see in a psychometric test is your preferred behaviours in certain circumstances - what would you typically choose to do in certain circumstances, how would you choose to be seen, what would you prioritise as the important things to do first?

There are many different personality types, and I'm not going to do a psychometric testing lesson here, but the beauty of it is that it gives you not only knowledge of yourself, but then you can extrapolate that into what you see around you with other people; If I'm like this and they're like that, then, therefore, there's going to be these kinds of interactions in the way in which we behave. If I'm really extrovert and that person's really introverted, that's going to be a problem. Isn't it? If I'm really extrovert and they're really extrovert, then we need to be careful that we're not trying to spar for centre stage all the time and so on and so on.

Tool number three is often a series of workbooks. Now, these are informative in the sense of giving you knowledge, but actually, they make you reflect. They make you think about things you already know but from a different angle. For example, there's a workbook around emotional intelligence and it helps you by asking a lot of questions to reflect on the interactions you've had over the years of what's worked well and what's not worked so well. Then, it categorises and helps you understand how emotional intelligence is essential as a management choice - it's the foundation stone of how you become an excellent manager, and an outstanding leader.

Then, you go onto another workbook. The one I like to use is one about learning styles. We've all got a preferred learning style, and understanding what your learning style is, makes you understand what's good and bad about it. So, for example, in the system that I would use, I'm called a pragmatic reflector, and that means two things; it means I'm only really interested in things that I can use at work. So, by definition, if it doesn't appear to me, at first sight, to be interesting for work, I'm going to ignore it. And the second thing is that I need a reasonable amount of information. I'm a reflector - I need a fair amount of detail to be convinced that it's worthy of my time. So, if you think about that, that's essentially saying that if things, experiences, people I meet in different situations, things that happen to me in life – if they don't meet those two criteria pretty much up front, I'm not going to be interested. By definition, I'm filtering away other things, or I'm not paying enough attention.

Other people could be people who like to learn by action. They don't like to read the manual first. They like to get in and do stuff. And there's nothing wrong with that. That means they'll cover a lot of ground very, very quickly, but it's risky. How many times have you opened a piece of digital electronics and you thought ‘I don't need to read that’ and you start playing with it and hey, presto, it doesn't work anymore. So, this is the kind of value you will get about learning styles.

Once again, when you understand your learning style, you can extrapolate that to the people around you. If your boss is like me and he or she is a reflector, you've got to give them all the data upfront, not as bullet points; it's not going to be enough. You've got to give them enough information to grasp the point you're making to get their attention.

If there's someone that learns by doing, then there's no point giving them anything other than bullet points and so on. And so, again, it's self-awareness, but first of all, understanding yourself and then projecting it on other people.

Another workbook that I quite like to use is about management styles. We've all been managed. We've all been managers. We understand the techniques that we use sometimes, sometimes that's because we do it intuitively, sometimes it's because we do it because we've been well trained, and so on. But again, it's a reflective kind of learning. It gets you to assess your own style, the organisation that you work ins style. Are there any differences between the two?

One of the big pieces of learning is do you overuse any particular kind of management type? Are you too much of a pacesetter, or are you too much of a coach? Are you too much of an authoritarian? The beauty of understanding all of the management tools is that they're just exactly that; they are tools and a toolkit and you need to use different ones with different people at different times. So, understanding yourself and understanding what you are more likely and more persuaded to go to rather than reflecting on all of the different tools at one time enables you to become a better manager.

Another tool that we've been using in recent years is the Positive Intelligence assessment. This is essentially helping people understand why they get negative thoughts in their heads. Why do they get so stressed about things? Why do they react in a certain way when life's challenges arrive?

If they're, for example, using the vocabulary of positive intelligence of a stickler, a perfectionist, what does that do when something bad comes? Do they effectively over-manage? Do they micromanage? Do they really just not accept 'good' as being good enough? If they're a restless type, do they feel constantly seeking new challenges and not really finishing the work that they're doing or being present in the work they're doing?

Because we're always looking for the next shiny thing. If they are a Hyper achiever; are they always looking for that next thing? Are they never, ever satisfied? And does that just relentless pressure, that relentless drive to achieve the next thing, is it just so demanding and so draining that ultimately, they're self-sabotaging in the worst possible way.

So, there you have it. These are a number of self-awareness tools. You can see how they fit into a coaching program, particularly at the early stages of that coaching program. Because a coaching program is, as we've said many times, all about helping someone develop and grow and become the person they want to be. And the start point for that is where are you now? And self-awareness tools fit that bill precisely.


That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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