Consider this scenario:

Aaron is a data management specialist working in a small hospital. A hard worker and a dedicated, well-intentioned teammate, Aaron is always quick to lend his support when colleagues need help on a project. Recently, however, he’s fallen behind in some of his responsibilities.  

This was the case when Aaron agreed to help his colleague, Elizabeth, research potential vendors to upgrade their hospital’s electronic health records system. Working under a tight timeframe, Elizabeth had only a month to pick vendors and complete the request for proposals (RFP) process. After the first week, Elizabeth checked in, and Aaron, while a little vague, said he was on track to share a list the following week. But Aaron never did end up delivering his research. The second week passed and Elizabeth, frustrated, moved on to doing the research and reminded herself not to ask for Aaron’s help again.  

Little did Elizabeth know of Aaron’s struggles to feel close to people, which cause him anxiety in his relationships. He values connection and yearns to feel secure in his personal and professional relationships, yet this has proven challenging for him in the past. This tension results in his behaving in ways that are overly accommodating. He tends to immediately agree to requests because he fears if he says no, the relationships will be harmed or even broken. As a result, he ends up taking on tasks and responsibilities that are more than he can handle, causing him to feel overwhelmed, despondent and resentful.  

More often than not, Aaron can’t complete all that he takes on. This has gained him the reputation of overpromising and underdelivering. Ironically, his attempts to forge stronger relationships end up putting significant strain on them.  

Do you relate to any part of Aaron and Elizabeth’s story? Many people have a reflexive inclination to want to please others, and, like Aaron, say “yes” when they should say “no.” Or, perhaps you’ve been in Elizabeth’s position, frustrated by people around you who drop the ball. What do you think could help prevent these demoralizing, everyday failures in accountability from happening?

The answer is conscious awareness. Had Aaron been more aware of his relationship anxiety and how that leads him to overcommit, he might have handled Elizabeth’s request differently. Likewise, had Elizabeth been more aware of Aaron’s current workload or his tendency toward people pleasing, she might have had a different kind of conversation with him about the work upfront.

What Is Conscious Awareness?

Conscious awareness is the key differentiator between accountability 1.0, which is more transactional, and conscious accountability, which is more transformational. By holding our own needs, proclivities and capacities in mind, and considering the perspectives and needs of others, we can simultaneously improve the quality of our relationships and the quality of results. With greater awareness, we can better hold ourselves and others accountable.

Conscious awareness is what allows for a more holistic and humanistic understanding of the big picture as we pursue our goals.

Here are some additional benefits to becoming consciously aware:

  1. It unlocks personal growth. Self-awareness helps us comprehend who we are; why we think, feel, and behave the way we do; and what we need to thrive in our personal relationships and work lives. We cannot improve what we are not aware of.
  2. It elevates results. This greater consciousness allows us to make more clear, intentional and informed decisions. These are decisions that can be in better alignment with our own values and those of our teammates and our organizations — decisions that will result in better outcomes and better relationships.
  3. It deepens relationships. The more that we are clear about what we want, what matters to us, and why, the more that we can make our wants, needs, expectations, and motives known to others. That allows other people to know us and, as a result, do a better job of being responsive to us while forging meaningful bonds.

By holding ourselves and the perspectives of others in mind, we can create a more collaborative, interdependent kind of accountability that strives to improve the quality of relationships and the quality of results.