Emotional Intelligence Competency
                                                                    Self Awareness

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor New York City, told Oprah Winfrey that on 9/11 and the days immediately following the
terrorists attack the demands on him were unimaginable. He was expected to be at the disaster site encouraging the
workers sifting through the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings for missing persons, to ascertain the
whereabouts of the missing, and to console the massive number of bereaved, anxious, and fearful residents of New
York. It appeared that all eyes in New York were cast upon him with expectation. At the same time, he was enduring a
personal battle with prostate cancer. However, as he told Oprah, although he was experiencing the same emotions as
those who looked to him for hope, he could not let his emotions override his duty to the people he was serving as
Mayor.  Giuliani, in this instance, epitomized self-awareness.

Author Daniel Goleman, in his book, "Emotional Intelligence," maintained that self-awareness (i.e., knowing one’s
emotions) is foundational to emotional intelligence.  He described it as being “aware of both our mood and our
thoughts about that mood.” Dubrin (2007) defined self awareness as, "insightfully processing feedback about oneself
to improve one's effectiveness" (p. 453).  Baron and Byrne (1991) wrote that individuals who have a high level of self-
awareness are better able to recognize and articulate their mood and to use the information to guide their behavior.  
They elucidated, "Enforcing self-awareness it appears is akin to saying to someone: ‘Before you act, stop for a
moment and think about who you are and what you believe to be true.  In light of these thoughts, what course of
action suits you best."

According to Baron and Byrne (1991) self-awareness is a special type of schema that consists of all the knowledge
we possess about ourselves. They maintain that this information is processed more deeply and is better organized
than other information; thus it is remembered more readily than other forms of information.  The literature suggests
that self-awareness enriches lives in several ways.

Weisinger (1998) wrote that high self-awareness enables individuals to observe and monitor their behavior. He sees it
as essential to effective on-the-job performance because it enables individuals to appropriately respond to the range
of interpersonal interactions that can be encountered in the workplace, such as angry clients, duplicitous coworkers,
and demanding bosses.  Conversely, individuals with low self-awareness lack the information about themselves
necessary to make sound decisions regarding their response to people and situations. Further, Farris (2002)
expounded on the necessity of self-awareness to eliminate poor work habits.

To Weisinger (1998) the effectiveness of emotional intelligence is maximized by developing good communication
skills, interpersonal expertise, and mentoring abilities. He explained that self-awareness is at the center of these skills.
To increase self-awareness the author suggested:

1.  Examine how you make appraisals. Appraisals are the ideas, perceptions, expectations you have of yourself
and others.
2. Tune in to your senses. Distinguish between your senses and your appraisals.
3.  Get in touch with your feelings.
4.  Learn what your intentions are. Intentions are both long and short-term desires and goals.
5.  Pay attention to your actions.

The literature suggests that self-awareness is a key leadership competency.  Hash (2002) postulated that developing
self awareness is the first step to becoming a leader. A gap in self awareness has caused many leaders to make
career and organizational mistakes (Dubrin, 2007).  Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee (2002) maintained that although
self awareness is often disregarded in business settings, it is the foundation of the other EI competencies. Leaders
must be able to recognize their emotions in order to manage them. Further, the ability to recognize one's own
emotions is necessary to understand the emotions of others, which is empathy.  The authors also explained that self
aware leaders make decisions based on their values, goals and dreams, and their decisions ultimately reflect what
feels right to them. Self aware leaders spend time in self-reflection and develop keen intuition that enables them to
make decisions based on "their accumulated life wisdom" (p. 45). As Daft (2005) explained, self aware leaders learn
to trust their "gut feelings" and recognize that these feelings provide useful information, especially when answers are
not available from outside sources (p. 194).  Goleman , Boyatzis, and Mckee surmised that self aware leaders are
better able to act with conviction and authenticity, which engenders the support of followers.   

Low levels of self-awareness can also hinder relationship building outside of the workplace. Zak, Gold, Ryckman, and  
Lenney (1998) found a correlation between an individual’s self-awareness and his or her degree of trust in intimate
relationships. Goleman (1997) wrote that some people are “emotionally flat” (p. 50), meaning they have difficulty
responding to feelings or knowing their own feelings. Hence, they have a difficulty putting their feelings into words. On
the rare occasions when they do emote, they are overwhelmed by the experience. Needless to say, people with this
condition, called alexithymia, have difficulty in relating to others. In fact, Goleman called them boring!

Le Tournea (2000) cautioned that individuals are constantly challenged to redefine themselves based on societal and
environmental pressures. While levels of self-awareness vary by individual, those with higher levels of self identify rely
less on the feedback of others than do those who are striving to define themselves. Hence, as Cooper and Sawaf
(1996) emphasized it is important to practice “emotional honesty” (p. 3), which is, “paying attention to what your heart
says is true” (p. 3.). The authors argued that people fail to do so for a variety of reasons such as keeping their job or
choosing to not  “make waves.” However, as Cooper and Sawaf explained, emotional honesty “makes you real and
true to yourself” (p. 10) and reflects self-respect and self-care, which leads to care and respect for others. It is not
always easy to practice this type of honesty, but it is essential for interpersonal and intra-personal well-being.  

Self-awareness is an essential element of emotional literacy. It is the foundation of many competencies that facilitate
effective relationships. Although Mayer (2004) warned that too much self-awareness could be a detriment, the
likelihood is that most people suffer from having too little understanding of their emotions. Hence, they run the risk of
being dishonest with themselves, which can lead to a host of intra-personal and interpersonal problems in every area
of life.  


Baron, R. A. & Byrne, D. (1991).
Social psychology: understanding human interaction (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and


Daft, R. L. (2005).  
The leadership experience (3rd. ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.

DuBrin, A. (2007).
Leadership: Research findings, practice, and skills (5th. ed.). Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

Farris, D. (2002, Jan-Feb). Time management: An exercise in self-awareness.
Rural Telecommunications, 21.

Goleman, D. (1997).
Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York:Bantam Books.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002).
Primal leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence.

Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Hash, R. (2002, May). Top leadership: taking the inner journey; developing self-awareness is the first step in

 becoming a leader. But how can we become self-aware, and what further steps can we take to become a

 leader? This author has sound advice.
Ivey Business Journal, 66. Retrieved February 27, 2004 from Infrotrac.  

Kondrat, M. E. (1999 December). Who Is the "Self" in Self-Aware: Professional Self-Awareness from a Critical Theory

Social Service Review, 73. Retrieved from Infotrac Data base February 27, 2004.

Le Tournea, M. (2000 July). Self, meet yourself.
Psychology Today, 33. Retrieved February 27, 2004 from Infrotrac.

Mayer, J. (2004 January). Be real.
Harvard Business Review, 82, 28.

Weisinger, H. (1998).  
Intelligence at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Zak, A. M.; Gold, J. A., Ryckman, R. M., Lenney, E. (1998 April) Assessment of trust in intimate relationships and the

 self-perception process.
The Journal of Social Psychology, 138, 217.
Workplace Wisdom