Self-awareness for emotional intelligence

Improve your ability to accurately identify your emotions, understand why you react the way you do, and recognize the impact you have on others. 

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Why this matters

The skills in this area are designed to help you strengthen the following abilities:

  1. Identifying your emotions accurately: identify, label and differentiate among a range of emotional experiences and reactions.

  2. Understanding the basis for your reactions: recognize the potential causes and functions of your emotional experiences and reactions.

  3. Understanding how your reactions impact others: realize how what you say and do affects other people’s emotional experiences and responses.

  4. Understanding how other people’s emotions impact you: be aware of how you’re affected by other people’s emotional reactions and responses.

When you enhance your self-awareness, it allows you to better understand your emotions and reactions. Individuals with strengths in this area are:

  • Aware of their own emotional reactions
  • Skilled at differentiating among a range of emotional states
  • Mindful of how they’re feeling at any given time
  • Comfortable with appropriately expressing a range of emotions in various personal and workplace settings
  • Able to understand the functions served by negative or challenging emotions
  • Able to pinpoint the causes of their reactions
  • Able to avoid personalizing others’ reactions
  • Aware of how their reactions impact others
  • Able to anticipate how their behaviour and reactions impact others
  • Supportive of others who may be nervous or apprehensive when it comes to expressing their emotional states

Self-awareness assessment statements

Each of the following are related to self-awareness and are included in the emotional intelligence self-assessment:

  1. I’m aware of what might trigger my emotions or reactions.

  2. I can accurately describe the specific emotions I’m feeling at any given moment.

  3. I can easily tell the difference between similar emotions, such as anger, disgust and shame.

  4. Generally, it’s best to avoid negative emotions and move forward.

  5. Negative emotions generally don’t serve any useful function. 

  6. I can usually pinpoint exactly why I reacted a certain way.

  7. Anyone who upsets me should be prepared for a strong emotional reaction.

  8. It’s not my fault if others misinterpret the way I respond to them.

  9.  I’m aware of the effect what I do or say has on others.

  10. Ineffective communication is almost always a sign of someone being manipulative. 

  11. Those who criticize or blame me are typically trying to deflect blame from themselves.

  12. Complaining, whining or crying are almost always a ploy to get my attention. 

Understand emotions


Anger can be triggered by many things. Basically, anger is a reaction to a perceived or actual injustice. We may believe someone has harmed, or threatens to harm, ourselves or someone we care about. Harm in this case refers to physical harm, psychological or social harm, like hurting our pride or attacking our reputation. In merit-based environments like the workplace, real or imagined threats to others’ perceptions of us can result in anger. They may be threats to our reputation, trustworthiness or reliability. See Understand anger to learn more.   


We can experience fear when faced with actual or perceived physical or psychological threats. For some people, fear can feel like extreme nervousness, anxiety or an intense feeling of “being stressed.” Fear tends to have a strong physiological component, as it prepares our body for an adaptive, “fight, flight or freeze” response. See Understand fear to learn more.  


We experience guilt when we believe we’ve done something wrong or bad. We can also feel guilty when we haven’t done something we think we should have. Guilt lingers when we dwell on thoughts of what we should or shouldn’t have done. Sometimes if you acted in a way you shouldn’t have, guilt is a natural and helpful response that motivates you to try to apologize or repair the damage. See Understand guilt to learn more. 


Sadness (or hurt) is an emotion that makes us feel low, down or “blue.” In the extreme, we may feel hopelessness or despair. Sadness is often tied to a sense of loss of something dear to us. For example, we may grieve the death of someone special or the loss of physical abilities as we age. We may also have an overwhelming feeling of disappointment when our hopes or wishes are dashed. Finally, sadness can take the form of loneliness or isolation – a sense we’re disconnected from others. See Understand sadness to learn more.  


We experience shame when we feel a painful sense of being inadequate, flawed or unworthy. Shame is the opposite of pride and it’s very similar to guilt – both involve negative self-judgment. See Understand shame to learn more.  

Find action-oriented and reflection exercises that can help you refine your emotional intelligence skills here: Emotional intelligence for employees and Emotional intelligence for leaders.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonMyWorkplaceHealthWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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