HomeEmployee ExperienceCultureWhy self-awareness is essential to workplace success

Why self-awareness is essential to workplace success

  • 5 Min Read

Ahead of his appearance on the HRD Live Podcast this week, John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership, The Myers Briggs Company, breaks down why self-awareness is so crucial to success as an employee and a leader, and helps you to discover how self-aware you are.

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It’s often said that self-awareness is a useful quality for executives, managers, HR folk and indeed just about anyone in the workplace. This isn’t just common sense; there is a great deal of research to back this up.

Research has shown that people with a more accurate self-perception tend to perform better in the workplace; for example, a study carried out in the Royal Navy found that more self-aware leaders were better able to tailor their leadership style to the situation at hand. In a survey that we carried out in 2017, we asked respondents about the advantages and disadvantages of being self-aware. The participants were much more likely to mention advantages than disadvantages; the top five included a greater understanding of your reactions and motivation, better management of oneself and others, the ability to adapt your behaviour, improved relationships and personal growth. They felt that increased self-awareness was particularly useful when working with others in a team.

Once we understand ourselves, we begin to understand how we are different to other people; once we understand these differences, we start to understand how we can work more effectively with others. In our survey, 98% of respondents said that it was important to understand why people behave in the way that they do.

So, self-awareness is important.  Unfortunately, it is also in short supply; studies carried out by the Eurich group suggest that only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware. You may, if you wish, take a moment to consider your own level of self-awareness. But before you do, remember that we all tend to over-estimate our own abilities. For example, do you consider yourself an above-average driver? If you were to ask this question of a large number of people, then objectively half the group should say ‘yes’ and half should say ‘no’.

Yet in reality between 69% and 93% of people (depending on the study) say they are above average – a logical impossibility. In our self-awareness survey, 68% of respondents said that they were more self-aware than their clients, 62% that they were more self-aware than their subordinates, 61% that they were more self-aware than other members of their family and 55% that they were more self-aware than their wider network. In other words, most of our respondents thought that they were more self-aware than most other people.

In our research, we measured self-awareness in terms of four facets: Reflection, Insight, Rumination, and Mindfulness, based on the of the researchers Anna Sutton, Helen Williams and Christopher Allinson. Here is a sample of the questions we designed to measure these facets.

Agreeing with these questions suggests that you may be more self-aware, except for those marked with a ‘*’; more self-aware people will tend to disagree with these. How would you score? How about others in your organization?


  • I often reflect on my thoughts.
  • I do not often think about the way I am feeling*.
  • I enjoy exploring my “inner self.”
  • I often reflect on my feelings.
  • Others would benefit from reflecting more on their thoughts.


  • I am interested in analysing the behaviour of others.
  • I value opportunities to evaluate my behaviour.
  • It is important to understand why people behave in the way they do.
  • When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I can easily name these feelings.
  • I usually know why I am feeling the way I do.


  • I am often on auto-pilot and do not pay much attention to what I am doing*.
  • Sometimes I am careless because I am preoccupied, with many things on my mind*.
  • I often dwell on the past or the future, rather than the present*.
  • My mind often wanders when I am trying to concentrate*.


  • I often find myself thinking about past negative events.
  • When things go wrong, I often ruminate on them for long periods of time.
  • I tend not to look back and think about how I could have done things differently*.

It’s likely that most of us could and possibly should take steps to increase our self-awareness, and there are many ways in which this can be done. Training to be a therapist or a coach may be one of the most effective, albeit impractical for most people; being coached can also be extremely useful. However, one of the most cost-effective methods can be the use of personality questionnaires. These can provide a framework for an individual first to understand themselves and why they behave in the way that they do, but also a way to understand how they are different from others, and how those differences can be used in a positive way. As you might expect, we typically use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment as part of this process (disclaimer: we publish this questionnaire). The MBTI model starts off with a very straightforward framework that allows individuals to compare their personality with others quickly.

Research shows that more diverse teams can perform better than more homogenous teams; team members can bring different perspectives to bear on the issues they have to deal with. Diverse teams can however suffer from more conflict, often because individuals simply do not understand other team members. Building self-awareness is key to solving this issue. And of course, this is a lesson that can be learned by individuals at any level in the organization.

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