Self awareness and masking emotions

Eggs_Expressions_Happy_Sad1According to its original meaning, over 99.9 % of humans are self-aware, which of course is not enough to be considered special. But now it has been chosen as the word to express the next, new, promising quality that distinguishes leaders from others. According to Daniel Goleman’s description of emotional intelligence, the meaning of self-awareness has expanded in multiple directions. It includes recognizing and regulating your own emotion, understanding your motivations, and being aware of the impact that you have on others. In addition it has a cognitive side, knowing your strengths and limits.[1]

Let’s start with the idea of recognizing and regulating your emotions. In other words, you realize that you are becoming increasingly irritated another employee who chatters constantly with minimal output. But you decide to be self-aware and not speak your mind because that employee will become astonished that you would hurt them by uttering words, such critical words. Even young children learn to mask disappointment, anger, and fear, so it would seem this skill is widespread. However, unless you have figured out how to change the way you feel when things irritate you, concealing your emotions comes at the cost of consuming energy.

People often see that the polite route is not the best way to get other people moving. An angry tone is a good motivator so people use it; they use it too much. The cost is that those around you become disengaged and demotivated. They get skilled at avoiding you. After the initial rush to get complete a task is over; they tend to find a corner to hide in, or get very good at looking busy.

The delicate balance between expressing feelings that are “negative” so people know they have fallen short of expectations or overstepped their boundaries, and saying words that are openly critical may be an nearly impossible balance. You may learn to regulate the expression of emotions, but you cannot regulate how sensitive or oblivious people are to what you express. People who are sensitive may take offense to a statement that is not even noticed by others. However, you should be aware that a heightened sense of response may be their way of manipulating others. People that are oblivious to your feelings may seem to lack empathy, but they are also harder to manipulate  emotionally, which is not a bad thing.

This all leads to the conclusion you can be too self-aware, paying constant attention to how other respond to you and burning out through attempts to regulate how you appear, based on their responses. This cost of self-awareness may be one of the reasons why Daniel Goleman finds most leaders are low in self awareness.[2]

Photo from
[1] Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books
[2]  Goleman, D. Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men? Psychology Today, Posted Apr 29, 2011.1.
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