Professionalism in the Workplace: Sheila's Emotional Self-Awareness

Posted by Dawn Stanyon
August 27, 2014

by Dawn Stanyon

dawn-stanyon-1The Scenario

Years ago, I worked with a corporate leader, Sheila (not her real name). Sheila plowed through our workplace like a ship’s prow through waters. She knew how to navigate a meeting, coordinate a project or develop a program to meet or exceed desired outcomes, but the waters were often choppy.  Sheila would badger people to meet deadlines, yet be upset when she encountered defensiveness. She would call people out in meetings (sometimes justifiably, perhaps, but often out of the blue) and then exclaim in private, “Why is X so upset with me?” If a colleague knocked on her door when she was busy, Sheila would not look up even to say, “Hi! I’m busy – could we talk a bit later?” and would eventually ask why that individual wouldn’t come to her for help. Co-workers understood her work ethic and appreciated her organizational skills, but no one wanted to work with her. Sheila struggled daily to understand why she couldn’t build strong workplace connections.

Emotional Intelligence: We’ve all got it – Just like we all have IQ

We’ve all worked with someone who has absolutely no idea why others react to them as they do. Frankly, employee-connection-through-emotional-intelligence-1all us have a certain lack of personal perspective – whether obliviously or willingly. However, to genuinely understand your emotions to build better relationships and experience greater personal success and professionalism in the workplace, you need to tackle one of the most important of the seven emotional intelligence skills: Emotional Self-Awareness.


Remember, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the skills we have to perceive, understand, reason with and manage our emotions and the emotions/behaviors of others. Let’s say you take an EI assessment and receive lower scores in certain areas, like self-awareness. That doesn’t mean you have low EI, it just means your skills in that area are lower. You can increase your skills in each skill-set area. For enhancing your self-awareness, you will need to understand of your emotional triggers, learn how to navigate them, and then manage those triggers and reactions in ways that work for you AND build relationships with those around you.

Emotional Self-Awareness: One of the seven skills of EI

Emotional Self-Awareness is simply the skill of perceiving and understanding your own emotions. Sheila, in the example above, needs to strengthen her self-awareness skills. Yes, I know: Many of us thoroughly disdain talking about “feelings” and “emotions,” especially in conjunction with work. Interestingly, our brains are wired to default to the emotional. Whether or not you like discussing it, your emotions serve a purpose and showcase something intentional or unintentional about you. They are reactions to the perceived actions of those around you.

Our emotions and the way we showcase those emotions are related to:

  • How we were raised and our related feelings
  • Past experiences and how we handled the related outcomes
  • Our genetic make-up
If you have high emotional self-awareness, it’s likely you:
  • Understand what you do well
  • Know what motivates you
  • Understand what satisfies your needs
  • Are aware of what people and situations trigger your emotions and related reactions

How to increase your emotional self-awareness

High EI skills make up 58% of job performance (Schmidt, 2012). Professionals that want to increase job responsibilities, make lateral or upward moves, and work productively with colleagues can increase their performance and emotional self-awareness when they:

  • Make time for introspection. This is easy to write down here and hard to actually do when you are overwhelmed with work, family, volunteering, continuing education – and more. The more quiet time you can take to be with your own thoughts and to process how and why you feel about situations you encounter, the more likely you are to gain self-awareness. Before setting out for your next run, mowing the lawn or stuffing envelopes, think about something that annoyed or upset you – and see where your mind takes you as your body is busy doing the manual labor.
  • Journal. Writing, whether by hand or on your tablet, smart phone or laptop, allows you to clear your mind of the people and situations who/that are bothering you. Get it out there on paper and then read through it again the next day, and then again a week later. It can be painful to reflect on how we acted in certain situations but it’s that thoughtful reflection that increases awareness.

  • Listen to others and think before your respond. Like any skill, you have to practice to ingrain the habit. If a colleague says something that you perceive as disrespectful, and that’s a trigger point for you, instead of shooting back an opinion, give yourself time to process what they said, ask them for clarification, and take more time before giving a counterpoint (“I heard what you said – I need some time to process this. Can we talk tomorrow?”). The more you take time to listen to and process what others are saying, the more you are increasing your own self-awareness.

If you would like to share your own self-awareness workplace stories, I’d like to hear/read them! You can comment here or email me at And stay tuned for the next article in this EI series: Emotional Awareness of Others.



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