Becoming More Self-Aware in the Workplace

In 1970, Gordon Gallup Jr. placed four chimpanzees into separate rooms and showed each of them a mirror. It was the first of many experiments completed by Gallup and others to determine who and what holds self-awareness. Though the Mirror Test only shows recognition of the physical body as our own, it does open us to a deeper discussion of what true self-awareness really is.

What is Self-Awareness?


Self-awareness is our ability to use our consciousness to reflect on our own being, thinking about the “self” as an entity we can shape and control. We recognize this “self” as a distinct yet inseparable part of our existence. It’s where nature and nurture mix to create who we are. It’s what holds onto and transmits the rules upon which we operate our thoughts and actions. The self is incredibly powerful! But without being aware of our “selves,” this power can either be wasted or come to harm others.


Why Is Self-Awareness Important at Work?


There are many situations at work where it is beneficial to be self-aware. A self-aware person generally has a higher self-esteem since they actively work to make themselves into someone they can be proud of. High self-esteem at work can make it easier to speak up and be creative with your ideas.


Self-awareness most often benefits others around us. Being empathetic and listening to our peers, managers, and executives can mean easier interactions where each person is encouraged to be brave because they aren’t feeling threatened. Any conflict is short lived because self-aware people can recognize when it occurs and help resolve it professionally.


Tips for Becoming More Self-Aware at Work


If we aim to be self-aware at work or in general, we must enter regular periods of self-reflection. A good starting place is to follow these self-awareness steps:

  1. Bring to mind a particular event such as a meeting, conversation, or even a whole day of interactions.

  2. Review the objective facts of the event(s), including actions you took and things you said.

  3. Broaden your memory to recall others’ reactions to your words and deeds.

  4. Ask yourself if this is how you wished your “self” to be in that moment.

  • If the answer is yes, congratulate yourself on manifesting a “self” you are proud of.

  • If the answer is no, ask what in your experiences or beliefs led you to say or do that thing you wished you hadn’t said or done.

5. Confront the rules that govern your behaviors and change them as necessary so that in a similar situation in the future, you can manifest the “self” that you want to be.


Everything we do creates a ripple effect. In step three above, we begin to look at the first ring and every ripple that comes after. Particularly at work, there are many ways our ripples can affect ourselves, other people, a team’s performance, and general company innovation. Therefore, applying our self-awareness at work is critical to being a good worker and leader.


What Does Self-Awareness in Leadership Look Like?


It’s good to have self-awareness in leadership, in particular for several reasons. In a leadership position,

  • Your rank lends authority to your words and actions.

  • You act as a role model for other employees.

  • You set the tone for office culture and mood.

  • You make decisions that impact many others.

  • You have more responsibility.

  • Your words and actions determine business outcomes.


What Are Self-Awareness Skills?


A self-aware leader will exhibit the following traits (and more).

  • Open-Mindedness

Self-awareness is a mindful process that requires facing uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Therefore, leaders who practice self-awareness keep open minds to new ideas and experiences to feed their “self” and help it grow.

  • Empathy

A self-aware leader recognizes and respects differences in the “selves” of others. We often call this trait empathy. A self-aware leader will be a strong listener and be able to place themselves in the shoes of others to better understand their views and experiences.

  • Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness is just one aspect of our full emotional intelligence. A leader with high self-awareness will also have a heightened awareness of social cues and the emotions of others.

  • Good Intuition

A leader with strong self-awareness seems to make good decisions in a snap judgment. This is because they have spent time honing their decision-making skills to apply their actions to good outcomes.

  • Emotional Regulation

A self-aware leader will understand their feelings and know how to harness their emotions rather than be driven by them. Self-aware leaders with good emotional regulation also set healthy boundaries as they know their triggers and what brings on their emotions.

  • Humility

Self-awareness brings many revelations, particularly that we don’t know everything and will therefore be bound to make mistakes. A good leader with self-awareness practices humility with others.


How Do Self-Awareness and Innovation Connect?


Innovation is driven by individuals, teams, and organizational culture. As leaders, we can bring self-awareness to each of these levels.


On an individual level, workers who practice self-awareness have traits such as open-mindedness, which allows them to bring new ideas to the table. A self-aware manager would then have the natural skill to listen openly to that worker’s idea. And an executive with high self-awareness would then recognize the need to provide support and empowerment to take that worker’s creative vision to the stage of true innovation.


Teams can also practice self-awareness (usually through the efforts of a team leader or team discussion). Teams need to be set up and managed in a way that fosters diverse thinking and psychologically safe spaces. Innovation comes along only when team members feel comfortable speaking up and cooperating.


The same goes for self-awareness at the organizational level. Organizational structure and culture should be examined by an executive, a team of executives, or even an outside neutral party or via employee feedback. However the reflection is performed, be sure the organization is set up to encourage new ideas and give workers and teams power to execute them.

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