Do Your Colleagues Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?

| By Terence Brake

Self-awareness is on the list of competencies in multiple workplaces, particularly in competencies for manager and executive positions.  But . . . we are not very good at understanding ourselves.  Just because you ‘drive’ yourself everyday – figuratively speaking - doesn’t mean you really know why you just made the decision you did.  You might give yourself a logical explanation weighing costs and benefits, but that doesn’t account for unconscious biases and situational factors.

An article The Atlantic makes clear that in most instances we are blind to ourselves.  

“Sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work have shown that people’s coworkers are better than they are at recognizing how their personality will affect their job performance.”  Coworkers are often more than twice as accurate.

Individuals do have insights into their emotional stability, it seems.  In a study, people outperformed their friends at predicting how anxious they would look when giving a speech about how they felt about their bodies.  They did not, however, do better than their friends (or strangers they had met just eight minutes earlier) on forecasting how assertive they would be in a group discussion.  When the same group tried to predict their performance on an IQ and creativity test, they were less accurate than their friends.

According to the research, “People know themselves best on the traits that are tough to observe and easy to admit.”  Emotional stability is an internal state, so others don’t see it as vividly as we do; we have unique knowledge of our internal states, but not of our observable traits.

With the most evaluative traits, we cannot be trusted.  For example, we consistently overestimate our intelligence, particularly men.  People also overestimate their generosity.  Those who see themselves as more objective than the average, tend to discriminate more, because they don’t realize how vulnerable they are to bias.

Some managers write their own user manuals to help people understand what brings out the best and worst in them.  According to the research it would make more sense to have people who know them well to write the user manuals.

In conclusion the authors write:

“The first rule of intelligence: Don’t talk about your intelligence.  It’s something you prove, not something you claim.”

“Any time a trait is easy to observe or hard to admit, you need other people to hold up a mirror for you.”

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