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How self-knowledge builds success: Self-awareness in the workplace

September 19, 2022 - 15 min read


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Self-awareness in the workplace: The essential tool for thriving

The levels of self-awareness and how they affect your professional life

How can you be more self-aware at work?

4 examples of self-awareness at work

Emotions and self-awareness in the workplace

Working with unaware people at the office

How can coaching help improve self-awareness?

We know that we have to give our tasks our full attention at work, but we can't forget about self-awareness in the workplace. Paying attention to our own actions, feelings, and productivity helps us become better leaders, be more thoughtful employees, and much more. 

Some of us might think we're self-aware, but we really aren't. One survey found that out of nearly 5,000 people, only 10-15% were truly self-aware. But many more people in the survey believed they were self-aware when they actually weren’t. Self-awareness is a quality that not everyone possesses, even though people believe it’s easy to acquire. 

Increasing our self-awareness is an ongoing process To do that, we need to know what self-awareness is.

We'll discuss what being a self-aware person at work looks like and how to develop our self-awareness to thrive at work. Let's begin.


Self-awareness in the workplace: The essential tool for thriving

Leaders want to seize the powerful technique that is self-awareness. It’s a term that's regularly misinterpreted because people tend to think it's only relevant to themselves and doesn’t have an impact on those around them.

But in reality, a self-aware person impacts and benefits others — especially in the workplace. This mindfulness and awareness help the person reflect on how others are feeling, improving their relationships. 

And it's something that should be taught right from the get-go. Research has found that people who are taught self-awareness have a better ability to reflect on their leadership skills and foster a stronger sense of teamwork. Self-awareness helps people review their skill sets to better contribute and build a company culture that values teamwork.

We enjoy many benefits of self-awareness in the workplace. For starters, it's a way of identifying stress. When we're more aware of what triggers our stress, we can manage it accordingly and take better care of our well-being. Self-awareness helps us understand our own emotions and how they impact others. We even receive and act on feedback better

As for some personal benefits of self-awareness, we feel more confident in our personal strengths because they’re recognizable. Plus, we'll learn how to practice more positive self-talk with ourselves, which helps strengthen our self-esteem.

We'd feel confident and comfortable sharing our different perspectives with self-aware coworkers. We'd understand how our coworkers work and how to best work collaboratively. We deserve a company culture and work environment that encourage self-awareness rather than skipping over it.

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The levels of self-awareness and how they affect your professional life

You're going to experience different levels of self-awareness in the improvement process. You won't wake up one day and be able to understand yourself thoroughly. But with effort and increased Mental Fitness, you'll see your self-awareness improve.

Let's review the three levels of self-awareness and how they can impact you at work:

1. What you're doing

In a busy world, you always have things on the go. You could be starting a new job and having difficulty adjusting to the new office. This level of self-awareness acknowledges your current situation and what it's doing to you. It helps you understand what troubles you, like trying to make friends at work or becoming comfortable using your voice.


Even unnoticeable habits, like tapping your pen against your teeth while you’re thinking, will be on your radar. Things like blocking people’s paths in the grocery store and holding the door open for people behind you will be top of mind.

2. What you're feeling

Your feelings and emotions might overwhelm you at times. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable around a certain coworker and collaborating with them is impacting your time management skills. This level of self-awareness will help you focus on your feelings more.

It'll show you that if you feel uncomfortable with someone in the workplace, it's important to acknowledge it rather than shove it away. Your experiences and comfort level matter. Never ignore your feelings.

3. What your blind spots are

It's time for some self-reflection. For this level of self-awareness, you must take a meticulous look at yourself, your situation, and your feelings and figure out what's lacking. Are you confident while writing your reports but shy away from speaking about them in front of others? Figuring out your blind spots enlightens you about your improvement areas and helps you set your goals.


Find someone to support you at every level of self-awareness. At BetterUp, our coaches can provide guidance as you acknowledge your actions, feelings, and blind spots to help you improve your self-awareness at work.

How can you be more self-aware at work?

You're looking to achieve self-awareness as a Whole Person. While you might be self-aware in your personal life, bringing that to work might be more challenging. Self-improvement of any kind takes time and dedication. You can't expect success overnight, especially if your goals are long-term.

But you should expect to put in multiple practice hours. Whichever tips or strategies you use, make sure you carve out time each day to work on them. 

We've listed six tips for you to try:

  1. Do every task with integrity
  2. Practice mindfulness activities on your lunch break or commute
  3. Keep a journal of your thoughts and emotions
  4. Ensure that you have clear communication, including open body language
  5. Keep other people's different perspectives and emotions in mind
  6. Ask questions for clarification if you're confused by an assignment or someone’s words


4 examples of self-awareness at work

We use our self-awareness in all sorts of situations at work. We might not realize it, but self-awareness comes in handy in more scenarios than we may realize — even before we’re in a workplace. 

Here are four examples where self-awareness aids us in professional settings:

  1. During a job interview: Our self-awareness will help us share answers when a hiring manager asks about our weaknesses or times when we've made mistakes. We'll be able to share our strengths, too, and how we experienced a learning opportunity.
  2. Dealing with a difficult manager: As we collaborate with managers that make us uncomfortable or even frustrated, our self-awareness will help our workplace communication. It'll help us articulate our thoughts and emotions clearly.
  3. Completing a work evaluation: Work evaluations may make us nervous, but that's OK. We’ll welcome opportunities to hear feedback and learn more about our strengths and weaknesses. Plus, we won't be afraid to ask for more help on how to improve our skills.
  4. Looking for a promotion: Promotions are exciting opportunities for career growth. With our self-awareness, we'll recognize what career advancements align with our values and skill sets. We'll be able to speak confidently about our abilities when our managers consider us for promotions.

Emotions and self-awareness in the workplace

Dealing with emotions in the workplace is tricky. We want to be professional, but we can't ignore that we're human beings with feelings. Our problems don't disappear when we arrive at work.

Self-awareness helps us manage our emotions everywhere we go. Our emotional intelligence relies on our self-awareness to be aware of how we feel and clearly express our emotions. It also shows us how to practice self-acceptance and acknowledge our emotions rather than push them away.

Research has shown that emotional intelligence helps with decision-making, working collaboratively, and dealing with stress. It teaches us how to deal with change and unexpected surprises, which are highly important skills in the workplace. 


We problem-solve issues at work more easily with greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence. If team members are arguing, we have the tools to navigate the conflict to respectfully work together and build trust. We can't always control what happens at work, but we can control our emotions and how we act upon them.

This also makes decision-making more rational since we're acknowledging our biases and emotions rather than letting them get in the way.

Working with unaware people at the office

Working with self-aware individuals is great. They know how to identify and express their emotions, make clear decisions, and work respectfully in groups. But what about those who aren't self-aware? 

Sometimes people don't realize they're unaware. When we deal with a situation like this, we must be mindful of how we confront the issue. Remembering to use our self-awareness to be mindful of how we're feeling when we either work or approach an issue like this is important. It reminds us to exercise some self-control and regulate our emotions.

It also reminds us to have compassion and empathy for others. Perhaps an unaware colleague is trying to self-manage and improve their levels of self-awareness, but they aren't there yet. Rather than unleashing our frustrations on them, we'll take the opportunity to provide some appraisal comments or feedback to help them improve.

Encouraging people with constructive feedback as they work to become more self-aware is more respectful than tearing them down. 

But if the colleague in question doesn’t care that they're unaware and has no plans to change, we might have to speak with our managers. We can't change people who don't see anything wrong with their actions. Assistance from our bosses can help make the workplace a more comfortable and productive space for everyone.

How can coaching help improve self-awareness?

Achieving self-awareness in the workplace will carry us further in life. But sometimes, it's a real challenge to improve our self-awareness by ourselves. We should never be ashamed of asking for help, and a coach could be the person who helps us improve our self-awareness.

Coaching will help us understand why we do what we do and how our actions impact our well-being and professional ambitions. A coach won't give us all the answers immediately but will share tools to help us understand who we are. It'll lead to a high level of self-awareness, making us better leaders, stronger employees, and better friends. 

No matter our level of self-awareness or how strong our emotional intelligence, we must understand that self-awareness is an ongoing process. It increasingly teaches us about ourselves, which is pretty special.

Find support from someone outside your workplace. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to guide you as you learn how to become more self-aware. You'll develop strategies that acknowledge your emotions and behavior that'll help you at work and beyond.

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Published September 19, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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