Self-Awareness and Manners in Today's Environment

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

In today’s mood and environment, we as a society often struggle with finding common ground. The lack of self-awareness, common courtesy, and respect for the feelings and needs of others is contributing to, or maybe the reason for, such discourse and inability to even consider, let alone listen to, differing viewpoints.


This has caused a disruption in basic manners, in how we treat and interact with each other. But I believe the root cause is not simply that we disagree on how things should be done, I believe we, meaning humans, are at risk of losing sight of who we are as individuals, and for how much we are ultimately responsible for the outcomes of interactions with others.


I must also clearly state that you, and you alone, are responsible for your behaviors and reactions to others. And although you are not responsible for the behavior of others, you have complete control over how you choose and intend to interact with others in the first place.


This commentary is not based on politics or generational discrimination, nor am I placing heavier blame on any particular group of people, as what I have observed is found everywhere. These behaviors are not new nor are they unique to any particular generation. Yep, that’s right, all groups are guilty of what I am about to discuss, across the board, without barriers or prejudices, so I have not been able to pinpoint or even dared to develop a hypothesis on the root cause of this lack of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and consideration.


But I will try to break it down for everyone.


Let’s start with the groundwork.


Emotional intelligence, or EQ, can be defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.


According to the British School of Etiquette(1), if you’re high in emotional intelligence, you are more skilled at judging and adjusting to situations accordingly. You are aware of your surroundings and react with empathy, respect and kindness.


These behaviors with which I frequently witness are prime examples and proof that society at large struggles greatly with emotional intelligence and as a result, self-awareness. To support my observations, there are numerous studies, reports, and statistics that show that while up to 95% of people think they are self-aware, the number is truly closer to 10-15%. According to subject matter expert Tasha Eurich(2), there are two broad categories of self-awareness: internal (how we see ourselves) and external (understanding how the world sees us). It turns out they are not dependent upon each other, and we all need to work on the development of both types.


So, what is self-awareness? It’s the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.


But Dr. Eurich and her team also found that introspection, the self-reflection that many of us do to figure out why we do what we do, is sometimes misleading and done incorrectly - which, again, does not lead to a greater self-awareness. When working on growth and self-improvement, results point to learning how to ask ourselves what we can do differently, rather than why is this happening to us. What I have found is that behaviors throughout the general public seem to support these findings.


My observation is that many people are far more concerned with their own world, and much less about how their actions impact the world around them.


And let me clarify - I am not asking you to care about what others think about you - that’s still not of your business. What I am asking is that you think about how your actions are affecting your environment and those around you, and what you can do to change and improve your manners.


Rather than just list some general practices that can help heighten your self-awareness, I chose few areas in particular that I would like to address where people can make immediate improvements. If you believe these don’t apply to you, before you make your final decision, take a few minutes and truly think about it. When these behaviors are called out to people, they act surprised that their behaviors are negatively impacting anyone else - again, displaying a lack of self-awareness. And what’s worse, rather than being apologetic and making an immediate correction, they become defensive, some indignant, and usually argumentative.


First - movie theaters.


Oooo…I just your groan from here. Yep, through the computer, loud and clear.


Going to see a movie should be an enjoyable experience. From the monstrous IMAX screens to the impressive 3-D and digital projection and sound technologies, to the reclining seats and in-seat service provided by some VIP theaters found in megaplexes, you have the opportunity to be immersed into another world to distract you from your troubles or travel to other dimensions.


You, as a movie-goer, really only have two responsibilities when the movie starts: (1) turn off your phone and (2) stop talking.


First, your phone. The light does bother others, no matter how dark you make it. If you can’t be away from emails and texts for two hours, don’t go to a movie. Turn it off and put it away.


Second, no matter how quiet you think your whisper is, your voice still carries. You’re sitting in a room designed for maximum sound quality. Others will hear you. Again, if you can’t stop talking for two hours, don’t go to a movie.


So my next area of suggestion concerns some behaviors displayed in public areas - shopping centers, amusement parks, restaurants, airports, really any place where groups of people gather.


The first suggestion is so easily remedied - when you’re in a group of any size, and the group needs to stop and talk, remember where you are and simply move over to the side, so you don’t block traffic. Seems easy, right? It amazes me that not one person in the group has the awareness to suggest to the others that perhaps blocking the walkway is a bad idea and poor form.


If you are alone, or perhaps with one or two others just walking along, don’t just suddenly stop. Like a car traveling behind you on the road, if you quickly stop without warning, someone will run into you. Again, have some awareness, and pull off to the side.


Then there’s the place that most dread more above all others - the airport. And I’m not surprised that this section is the longest.


If you’re not a frequent traveler, check the airport or airline website for updated rules and regulations, and perhaps tips on going through security, so there are no surprises. If you’re still in doubt when you arrive at the airport, ask airport personnel for information. Pack your bag properly, be prepared to remove certain things from your bag when you go through security. Please wear socks, because if you’re not a minor or a senior citizen, or haven't gone through that wonderful TSA Pre-Check process that is worth every penny of the $85 fee, you will need to remove your shoes. Be aware of what you can and cannot have in your carry-on bag. Don’t bring a carry-on that is too large; it may get through security, but it may not fit in the overhead compartment and upset your fellow travelers. When you’re actually on the plane, consider those around you. Don’t take your shoes off. If you do insist on removing your shoes, again, make sure you are wearing socks, but do not, for any reason or circumstance put your feet up on the arm rests of the person in front of you. Or the back of seat. If you have long hair, don’t flip it over the back of your seat. Don’t cocoon yourself so that others in your aisle can’t get out if needed. If you’re in the aisle or window seat, the person in the middle gets the middle arm rests - but as the middle seat person, you do not have the right to spread yourself so wide you take up the space of the others (in fact, that applies to every seat).


My third area to address is living spaces. I recognize that everyone is entitled to enjoy their home and to live their lives as they see fit. But…if your living situation places you above or sharing a wall with someone else’s home - be it an apartment or condo - be cognizant of your location and don’t forget that there are people trying to live their lives around you, who have just as many rights as do you to enjoy their home. Pay attention to how heavy you walk, or how hard you slam your doors, or how often you play basketball or bowl in your house. And don’t park in their spots and subsequently act indignant when you are warned that you could be towed. Oh, wait, maybe that’s just me and my lovely neighbors. Oh well.


One more note I would like to add for everyone, from the other side - if you experience or are subjected to any of these behaviors, do them a favor, truly, and I give you permission to bring it to the attention of the offender. Be as graceful as possible, but exert your rights and demand that their behavior change or stop. You may be a driving force on helping that person find a greater self-awareness that can help them improve in the future. Don’t just post a picture on social media (although they are pretty funny), and bring in reinforcements as needed (flight attendants, leasing management, security, etc.).


And if you are called out by someone, before reacting and thinking you’re being treated unfairly, consider what you were doing to cause the offense. Did you experience a moment of no self-awareness? It happens to everyone sometimes - so simply apologize and make a note to try better next time.


The fortunate news is that emotional intelligence, and therefore self-awareness, can be developed and improved. It’s by no means an easy process as it involves digging deep and possibly learning things about yourself about which you may currently be unaware, and perhaps don’t even like - but don’t panic, I found a few of those nuggets during my process, and I think I’m a much better person for it now.


Sometimes this work requires assistance from a neutral 3rd party, sometimes a professional, but the benefits of doing this work include greater empathy and listening skills, improved critical thinking and decision-making, stronger relationships, and clearer communications. Your leadership skills will improve, and your teams will be more cohesive, especially if the discussions and training are extended down the ranks.


Improvement and growth on any level takes time, practice, repetition, and patience. Give yourself credit for acknowledging that you have room and want to grow. You’ll start seeing changes almost immediately - and the positivity will start to spread to others.


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(1) Anderson, A. (2019, March 15). What is emotional intelligence and why does it matter? Retrieved from https://thebritishschoolofetiquette.com/emotional-intelligence-matter/


(2) Eurich, T. (2018, January 4). What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). HBR.org. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it%20

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