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Examining The Role Self Awareness Plays In Sexual Harassment


As this issue of sexual harassment and abuse at work has gotten more attention over this past year, we've been hearing something over and over again, especially from men who've actually apologized for their behavior. And it goes something like this - I didn't know what I was doing was making anyone uncomfortable, or I didn't realize that I was doing anything wrong. And that has a lot of people wondering how that's possible. So for insight, we called Tasha Eurich. She is an organizational psychologist who has focused most recently on the issue of self-awareness. Her latest book is called, appropriately enough, "Insight: Why We're Not As Self-Aware As We Think, And How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed At Work And In Life." And Tasha Eurich joins us now from Colorado Public Radio in Centennial, Colo. Tasha Eurich, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TASHA EURICH: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, do you buy the argument that someone truly isn't self-aware enough to recognize that certain kinds of behavior is just wrong? And I'm thinking here about Louis C.K., who has admitted - forgive me, parents, who are sick of hearing about this - that he masturbated in front of female comedians who had sought him out for career advice. So even accounting for how different the entertainment world can be, do you really buy that he just didn't know that that was not OK?

EURICH: More generally, self-awareness is a remarkably-rare quality. And so my view on this is that this is one fairly disturbing manifestation of that. But even generally in the population, our research has shown that 95 percent of people think that they're self-aware, which means knowing who we are, knowing the impact we're having on others, but only 10 to 15 percent really are. And that's sort of the baseline that we all start with, which is a lack of self-awareness.

MARTIN: Well, given that your work generally is what people at the top of the corporate food chain, as it were, I just wondered if your research indicates whether there is any pattern to people who are interested - at least interested in being self-aware and people who aren't?

EURICH: Time and again, research on this has shown that the more power we hold, the less self-aware we become. There's an example Megyn Kelly talked about this last week where she shared an upsetting encounter she had had with Charlie Rose on a book tour that she was on. And she was angry about the whole situation. Then she said, what did I do? I sent him a bottle of wine and a thank-you note. And I think that's so telling about how we treat people in power, that really, you know, if delusion were a fire, power is the kerosene that just can send it up in smoke.

MARTIN: I just gave that Louis C.K. example. Can you think of another example of, like, the kind of cluelessness that we're talking about here?

EURICH: So I think of Matt Lauer and a couple of things that have gone on. Number one was the statement he made where he said some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized. And that's consistent with a lot of the other apologies which are not really apologies. But I did a little bit of investigating. And earlier this year in an interview with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand about her new book, he was essentially berating her for not calling out the names of her colleagues who committed harassment or who she saw commit harassment. And, you know, to condemn the behavior in others that you can't see in yourself, you know, I think it's so indicative of just how blind we are.

MARTIN: So you delivered this TEDx Talk that had more than a million views. And in that talk, you used an example of a male boss was unaware of how his behavior was affecting his staff. And I just want to be clear that this was an anger-management issue, not a sexual-misconduct issue. But I thought the example was interesting because when you interviewed the staff before you began working with him, they all said they didn't like working with him, that he made them uncomfortable, that his behavior just was very upsetting. But then after you'd work through solutions with him, his staff was responding positively to the changes that he made. I wonder, what lessons should we draw from that? I mean, is the lesson here that you can change but somebody needs to push you to change?

EURICH: That's exactly it. Our research has shown time and again that self-awareness is learnable. But what so many people lack, you know, to overdramatize this a little bit, is a reckoning. And I think that's what's happening in the media right now. It's what happened with the executive you just mentioned, somebody to show them the truth or at least the truth of how they're seen in a way where they can't avoid it, where they have to face it.

MARTIN: That's Tasha Eurich. She's an organizational psychologist who focuses on helping people become more self-aware. And her latest book is called "Insight: Why We're Not As Self-Aware As We Think, And How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed At Work And In Life." She was kind enough to join us from the studios of Colorado Public Radio. Tasha Eurich, thanks so much for speaking with us.

EURICH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.