Why is Self-Awareness Critical in the Workplace?

Davina Greene is The Personal Strategy Coach – a coach, trainer, and People consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published in Irish Tatler magazine. 

Interested in building your Personal Strategy online? For a first-of-its-kind self-management experience, go to mystrategy.me!


Why is Self-Awareness critical in the Workplace?

What would happen if I asked you, right now, to stand up and give a seamless 1-hour presentation about you?

No problem, right? You are an expert on you, with a full and accurate appreciation of who you are, how you are, and how you are viewed by others?

In reality, it seems self-awareness is quite rare. Some people are nervous about self-awareness, assuming it is an expedition to seek out only bad news! Some find the notion of ‘looking inward’ to be a bit soft, even a bit damaging to the general doggedness and obstinacy that we think is required to get ahead nowadays.

In the workplace, why might it actually be useful to understand yourself better?

1. Are you on the most suitable track for you?

It makes life a lot easier – for you and the people around you – if you understand yourself, your requirements, and your defaults.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities are there for those strengths? Which of those weaknesses is it important to improve upon, to get where you want to go? In terms of ‘where you want to go’, why did you choose that particular destination? Have you chosen the role that will truly allow you to shine, based on what comes most naturally to you?

How do you react when you don’t get your own way? How do you react when working in close proximity with someone you don’t like? How do you react when someone disagrees with you? When you disagree with someone, how do you express it? If you are petitioning for a Leadership role, then do your actions and communications add up to those of someone that other people would want to follow?

Yes, you probably have a sheet of paper that says ‘Degree’ or ‘Masters’ on it (“eligibility”) but, at this stage, so do a lot of people. Who are you really and what are you really going to give me, as an employer, on a day-to-day, practical basis – and what will be your attitude while you do it (“suitability”)?

For everyone’s sake, know yourself in order to put yourself forward for the right roles.

2.     What do you want, and what you need?

In this age of entitlement, we all seem to think that we need everything – if it exists, if it’s out there, I am entitled to get my hands on it. How stressful!

Jane receives a promotion. You are jealous. Why? Do you think she got a pay-rise proportionate to the amount of staff she now has to look after? (She didn’t). You are responsible for your work – Jane is now answerable for the quality of work of 15 people, plus herself. Is that what you want? You have spent considerable time in her office moaning about various things, just because you are generally annoyed and feel like ‘letting it all out’. Actually, now that you think about it, lots of people have been sitting in her office, voicing their grievances about various things, big and small. She now seems to start her own work closer to 5pm. And you know that managers, nowadays, are rarely paid for overtime.

Is that how you want to spend your working life? Maybe it is, but check in with yourself on those facts, just to make sure – before you put any more of your energy into annoyance and bickering. It’s energy you could be using more constructively elsewhere.

Realise what is “enough” for you. Re-set your gauge. Anything above that becomes a positive bonus – not a sorely lacking requirement. Such self-knowledge and perspective can make a person altogether more pleasant to be around, which makes you a far more valuable employee.

3.     How do others see you?

If you were to describe yourself to a room full of colleagues in the above-mentioned 1-hour presentation, how likely would it be for someone to raise their hand to dispute what you’re saying? Do you know?

They have to work with you, so it does matter.

One of the simplest techniques in coaching is reflection – simply repeating back to a client, in their exact words or very similar, what they have just said to you. You would be amazed how many people are quite taken aback by what they hear. “Wow, did I really say that? Did I use those words? That sounds terrible, really negative. I had no idea I sounded like that.”

Alternatively, when you get annoyed, do you really think that people cannot see it in your body language, hear it in your tone, or feel it in the air around you?

Often, what annoys you about others might actually be something that you do yourself. I have often sat through people ranting about their siblings or colleagues – “She’s this, she’s that….and, wow, she ALWAYS does the opposite of what I say”. And so many times I’ve sat there, chuckling to myself, substituting the name of the speaker for the name of the sibling/colleague, thinking “She’s really giving a great description of herself here…it’s only a pity she doesn’t realise it!” (or at some subconscious level, does she? Diversion is a key tool of the cunning!) 

A really useful way of understanding how you are perceived is to complete a 360-degree psychometric assessment of some kind – a tool which many employers now use in line with Coaching. What is the point of someone saying “I’m a great salesman” when nobody who has seen him in action agrees? Why would someone want you as their manager if they see you as someone who never listens, who is a self-focused glory-seeker, or maybe even a hypocrite when they compare your words and your actions? The more your employer can find out about your perceived standing before promoting you, the less likely they are to have to deal with mass mutiny later. This 360-approach is therefore very intelligent.

All in all, you do not need to be liked by everyone – people are different, they are drawn to different people and things. But you do need to be respected. Understand if you are.

4.     Does your environment clash with your Values?

If someone sat down to have a chat with you, would they detect your values from the stories you tell? If they watched you in action over time, would they detect your values from what they see? If they asked you straight-out to name your values, do you know the answer? If you told them, would they understand how it ties in with the job you do?

If you do not know your values, how can you manage a perceived mismatch between you and a person, or you and a situation? If you cannot name the value-clash that is happening, how much torment will you cause yourself in trying to work out why things aren’t clicking into place, why you are feeling uncomfortable?

So many managers, or even just team members, can talk for hours about how much they love working with people, nurturing people, developing people. But, in reality, they sit at their desk in great, impatient discomfort thinking “Wow, why won’t these people just put their blinkers on, quietly do what I tell them to do for 8 hours, and then go home and do their complaining there? Why should I go out and ‘work the floor’ for 30 minutes? They’re adults, surely I don’t have to pat them on the back all the time?!”.

If terms generally related to the idea of Developing People or Being Kind do not appear in your core values, then do not be surprised if you are later ‘found out’ to be a poor people manager or leader.


Aim for ‘no surprises’ by knowing how you operate before needing to be told. Having your perceived Values spelt out to you by someone else can be awkward – especially if you thought you were about to walk out of that person’s office with a promotion or a pay rise.

All of this comes back to you. You must understand both yourself and your impact, in order to be able to understand the results that they are bringing in the workplace.