The Domino Effect of Low Self-Awareness at Work

People are like dominos. When placed together, the action of one domino can change the movement of all the dominoes near it. When a person takes action, it causes a chain reaction to the people and places surrounding that person. Self-awareness helps you to more effectively see these connections with other people and recognize more fully how your actions impact not only the other people, but the organization you are a part of as a whole. Self-awareness gives you a broader sense of how you fit into the world to include your relationships with yourself, other people, and work as a whole. When you expand self-awareness, you make more informed decisions using additional information that helps you see other options that may be available for a solution. You stay calm and become responsive instead of reactive to daily challenges as they occur throughout the day.

As a project manager, it is easy to let work take control of how you respond to situations. For instance, an employee who complains about other people on the team might cause you to become frustrated or upset about this person and the way they are acting. The goal of self-awareness is to help you navigate through the frustrations taking in all possible information so that you can move forward on a project without focusing as much on the frustration you feel toward the employee.

The more you focus on the solution, the less time you will spend complaining or moving backward. In fact, the backward movement of frustration reduces your ability to see solutions and/or alternatives. A focus on the other person’s behavior will reduce your performance and take your attention away from finding the most effective solutions to the situation. Self-awareness gives you alternative solutions for handling difficult people and challenges. Research from the Korn Ferry Institute indicates that employees of a poor-performing company were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at high-performing firms. Krista Brubaker ties together the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Self-Awareness in her recent article EQ at Work: Developing Employees’ Self-Awareness. Low self-awareness manifests as frequent inappropriate or exaggerated reactions and behaviors, reduced self-confidence, trouble making decisions, operating from a victim mentality, being in denial, and an overall intolerance to other viewpoints. When you improve self-awareness, suggested Campbell, author of Loving Yourself: The Master of Being Your Own Person, you will stay more grounded, attuned, and focused.

Think of self-awareness in two-parts. The first part involves your relationship with yourself. It is easy to have an emotional reaction and want to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings that come from that emotion. Self-awareness offers you the ability to look at the discomfort and name the fear associated with it, therefore reducing the anxiety that is driving your decisions and actions. For instance, you become defensive to a situation because you are afraid of losing your job. Self-awareness lets you name that fear and then put it aside to take another look at the situation. With that approach, you get to choose what domino you want to move to cause the chain reaction. When you take time to think through the situation instead of reacting, you give yourself more options and a higher chance of success for maintaining effective work strategies.

The second part contains the way you deal with other people and situations. When you react to something internally, you have a split second to decide if you are going to react or respond to that emotion or belief in your mind. You can choose to manage your thoughts and behaviors, or you can react to the situation from a place of frustration or anger. Think in terms of other people and the business as a whole. How might your decisions impact them? What dominoes might fall if you take one path over another? Try to consider as many different options or possible scenarios as you can. When you are in the moment of dealing with something difficult, pause to look at what you would do if the fear you are carrying was not involved in the decision. When you open the door to a more significant number of options, you might find some surprising solutions, especially if you find ways to include others in a positive exchange of ideas.

The overall goal for improving self-awareness is to help you manage this two-part interaction. The result will be that you care for yourself and also for the people and situations that are impacted by the domino effect that occurs from your behaviors.

As an example, Bob did not get his work done on time. You are becoming tired of his behavior, but do not want to upset Bob because he is a nice guy. This time is the tenth where he has not completed his work. It goes without saying that you are very frustrated with having to work with him at all. Your first reaction might be to complain to other team members about what a slacker Bob is at work. You may start avoiding him or not giving him essential tasks, which puts more stress on other team members who are getting their work completed. Pretty soon, everyone is upset with Bob, and nothing has been resolved because the team is stuck in the loop of talking about what a slacker Bob is. With self-awareness, you realize that you cannot control Bob and that getting upset does not solve the situation.

Even though you cannot control Bob’s behavior, you realize that you can manage your actions. Instead of becoming upset or complaining, you can choose to focus on finding a new narrative for the situation. You can then look at the broader picture. Think in terms of things you don’t know. You might ask Bob why he doesn’t get his work done on time. Or you may ask him what’s going that makes it difficult for him to complete his tasks. You may remind yourself that it is essential to keep the focus on your work, rather than documenting the times when Bob has not completed his. The objective at this point is to gather as much information as possible so that you are making decisions based on factual information instead of your beliefs. Until you collect the facts, you are working from your assumptions. Bob may have a different definition of what constitutes late. He may have some problems at home. He may not care that it is late. Self-awareness recognizes that other people and situations may have a different narrative than yours. Their story is not good or bad, or wrong or right. Bob isn’t wrong or bad; he is different. Since Bob is different in his view of the world, consider how you can integrate your opinions and viewpoints with his? Self-awareness gives you a way to talk about conflict or situations in a way that looks for solutions instead of moving into a more protective stance. Your narrative may be that you cannot change Bob, so therefore, you will focus on what you can control. If you are Bob’s boss, you can talk with him, try to understand his point of view, and set up parameters that he must meet to keep his job. Think in terms of a multitude of solutions instead of just one. How will the solution you choose effect the other dominos?

Self-awareness is a universal skill that can create stronger, more resilient individuals, in turn creating stronger organizations. Self-awareness improves your ability to remain calm and keep moving projects forward. The next time you are frustrated or upset about a situation, take time to practice this process of looking within and then outside of yourself. It will make a difference!


Avatar photo
Written by Dr. Lynette Reed

Writer, researcher and advisor on human potential for personal and organizational development, Dr. Lynette Reed has mentored people from in businesses, not-for-profits, schools, allied health agencies, chambers of commerce, government and churches. She has taught courses on team building, leadership, ethics, world religion and world cultures. Her current literary contributions include an executive summary paperback titled, Fixing the Problem: Making Changes in How You Deal with Challenges, as well as book contributions, articles, guest radio appearances and a series of children’s books with Abingdon Press. She is also a co-founder and board member of the Institute for Soul-Centered Leadership at Seton Cove. Lynette holds a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality, Sustainability, and Inter-Religious Dialogue and a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Contact her at

Share This Post

Leave a Reply