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Secret to Success is Shared Self-Awareness

In the cinematic classic White Men Can’t Jump, Woody Harrelson plays the hustler Billy Hoyle, who dates Rosie Perez’s jeopardy-obsessed character, Gloria Clemente. In one memorable scene, Gloria remarks that she’s thirsty, so Billy fetches her a glass of water. Gloria grows frustrated that Billy immediately looks for a fix when she just wants to feel sympathized with and understood. Tensions escalate, not because of a glass of water but because Gloria does not feel heard.

What Billy Hoyle fails to see is that there is more to a relationship, to communicating with a partner in life or in business, than simply ‘being responsive.’ The core distinction here that separates ‘responding’ from ‘understanding’ is self-awareness. The self-awareness to identify and pause your immediate-response reflex, to take a breath and see things from the other person’s perspective.

A Simple Shift

Twenty years ago when I was starting my career in financial services, I was told all that mattered was whether or not “the register got rung” on a given day. This narrow focus left scant room for anything besides ‘selling’ and solving the problem at hand. Add in the financial services industry’s necessary devotion to numbers, statistics and logic, and it’s not hard to see how the element of shared human experience can fall by the wayside.

The best way to ensure your team is ready to exceed client expectations is to engender an atmosphere of shared self-awareness. While individual self-awareness enlightens us to our own approaches, biases and blind spots, shared awareness allows us to understand the perspectives, values and experiences of others.

Tools of the Trade

  • Listen: Not merely to reply, but to understand. Do not interject, and do your best to refrain from mentally formulating your response as the other person is speaking. The only trick here is an authentic interest in what the other person is saying.

  • Acknowledge: Ensure that the person speaking feels genuinely heard. Use phrases like “I hear you,” “That’s clearly important to you” and “I understand where you are coming from.”

  • Reflect: After actively listening, make sure that you truly understand what the other person is trying to convey. You want to be on the same page so as to move forward from a place of common understanding. If you need additional clarification, try saying “what I hear you saying is…” or “it sounds like you are telling me that…” – and then stay silent while you give the speaker time to elaborate.

  • Empower: When all parties feel fully understood and acknowledged, you can then move toward a solution with clarity and purpose. Build upon the foundation of mutual respect and open communication you have created. Work towards a solution that benefits both parties by asking questions like, “What would be an ideal outcome for you in this situation?” or, “What would you feel comfortable with going forward?”

The key of any exercise in self-awareness is keeping a willing, open mind. Real insight requires letting go of the instinct to recoil from criticism and defend yourself. Billy Hoyle did not want to hear where Gloria was coming from, and thus couldn’t comprehend why she reacted negatively to his literal interpretation of her words. Had he sought to understand rather than solve, Billy may have spared himself some grief.

Generally, people just want to feel listened to. Cultivating a shared self-awareness will give your team an enormous competitive advantage in any client interaction. You are providing something valuable to your clients beyond a numerical outcome – the intangible sense of feeling supported, that somebody is on their side.


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