What to do When Clients Lack Self-Awareness

August 11, 2022 by Lauren Gombas

Self-Awareness Defined 

In coaching and other helping professions, self-awareness means knowing how our actions, thoughts, and emotions align with our values. Rather than something that indicates a sense of being hyper-aware or insecure, self-awareness empowers someone to make objective assessments of themselves and make choices to adjust in a way that matches with their internal standards. 

Self-awareness begins in infancy when a baby realizes that others are separate from itself. No one is born a master, and this skill can be continuously developed throughout life. It’s a powerful tool in helping us shape the life we want to live. It supports us in seeing goal-related obstacles, helps us be effective leaders, and provides us with more accurate evaluations of ourselves. Unfortunately, many go through life without enough self-awareness to know who they are, what they want, and how to have meaningful relationships. 

What to do When Clients Lack Self-Awareness

Lack of Awareness

While a client may lack self-awareness due to mental health concerns (at which point they should be referred to a therapist or counselor), lack of self-awareness can most often be attributed to lack of practice or a self-serving bias. As a coach, it’s important to be aware of the signs a client may be struggling with self-awareness and focus the coaching questions on helping them identify strategies to strengthen this muscle.

 10 Signs a Client Lacks Self-Awareness

  1. The client keeps pursuing the same challenge with no resolution, even when a potential solution is evident. 
  2. They take no accountability for not following through on multiple actionable steps.
  3. They admit they lack self-awareness.
  4. They seem to be focusing on the wrong goal or one that's not actionable. 
  5. They unfairly shift blame onto others or themselves.
  6. The client believes their success boils down to luck or their talent alone. 
  7. The client claims they know what they want to do but don't want to take action to achieve their goal and won't choose a different plan.
  8. They keep pursuing an idea in full acknowledgment that there are signs that their focus needs to be elsewhere. 
  9. They don't seem to know what they want, say, “I don't know” to most questions, and when challenged to explore why they don't know, they can't come up with an answer. 
  10. They react defensively to most questions. 

Ways to Improve Self-Awareness in Your Client 

Approaching a client about their lack of self-awareness can be uncomfortable, especially if they’ve been hesitant or defensive about the topic to this point. Luckily, as coaching naturally inspires insights, there are ways to help a client build their self-awareness through carefully placed insights and powerful questions. 

How to Approach the Client

Coaching draws on positive psychology, which helps people enhance their strengths rather than focus on their flaws. By helping clients focus on their strengths, coaches can help them identify potential lapses in self-awareness, both around strengths and areas of potential growth. There are a number of ways to approach a conversation about self-awareness with your client, and each depend largely on where your client falls on their journey toward it. The strategies listed below are just a few ways you can help your client further develop their self-awareness. 

  • Use visualization tools, such as Future Self or Vision to help your client identify both who they want to become and what they want to accomplish. Once they go through the visualization aspect of the tool, the coaching session can branch out in a few different directions depending on the needs of the client. If the client is struggling with awareness about how far off they are from this visualization, the questions can revolve around identifying gaps and developing strategies to close those gaps. If the client is struggling more with awareness about pathways to get to their visualization, questions can revolve more around the resources and skills they need to develop to reach their ideal selves. If a client is struggling with awareness of an ideal future, on the other hand, this tool may not be as helpful as the next strategy.  
  • When clients struggle to identify who they want to become or what they want to accomplish, it’s important for them to do some internal work on their own. Perhaps their external world has gotten too noisy with distractions or the opinions of others. Either way, it may be worth it to encourage your client to take up journaling or a mindfulness practice so that they can tap into their own internal world. Another way to manage this would be to help facilitate a conversation between your client and their internal self. You can encourage your client to close their eyes and ask their inner world questions that try to answer the ultimate question: What do I really want? 
  • Another exercise that may be helpful is to have your client elicit feedback from others. It can be impossible to see our blind spots without the help of the people in our lives who truly see us and want the best for us. A great exercise for this is a 360 evaluation, in which the client drafts a few questions that they send to the people in their most inner circle to respond to anonymously. Then, with the help of a coach, the client can go through the feedback to learn more about how others perceive them. The coaching conversation can then revolve around how the client wants to implement that feedback into their life. 

Getting in Reps

John, our founder, does a great job of likening coaching work with workout reps. Similar to building muscle, our minds, personalities, and internal strengths can always stand to be exercised and further developed. Self-awareness is no different. Just as going to the gym daily helps build different muscle groups, there are exercises that clients can engage in regularly to help build self awareness. 

Accountability from the coach is critical here, as once action steps are decided, the way to continue improving is to stick with it. An example of a self-awareness “rep” could be writing one paragraph daily for two weeks in a journal about an area of self-awareness on which they want to improve. Again, this is consistent and actionable, just like doing sit-ups or lifting weights.

We want to hear from you! How can you practice self-awareness more regularly? What challenges have you faced head-on in supporting your client's journey toward self-awareness? 

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