It’s very well known that when it comes to assessing ourselves, we are often pretty awful, with our assessments often verging on the optimistic side. You only have to watch any episode of The Apprentice to see this in action, with the contestants often oblivious to their many character flaws.
This is something that we all tend to suffer from, regardless of our place in the corporate hierarchy, with leaders just as susceptible as those in junior positions. Indeed, it’s one of the main reasons why social feedback systems are so valuable as they encourage regular and diverse feedback on our performance.
A study from researchers at Columbia Business School highlights some of the challenges involved in providing an accurate self-assessment. The research explored how good we are at perceiving our assertiveness. Did respondents’ perceptions match up with how others saw them? Well, it would appear not, with most of the participants somehow sucking.
About the research
The researchers undertook four distinct studies to try and understand whether there was any connection between how assertive we are, and our levels of self-awareness.
Each participant was instructed to participate in a negotiation, with participants handed a variety of topics to haggle over. At the end of each negotiation, they were asked to fill in a short survey where they were asked about both their own assertiveness levels, and that of their counterpart in the negotiation. What’s more, they were also asked to take a guess over how their counterpart graded them.
“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness,” the researchers suggest.
“In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right—that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard.”
Am I too pushy?
The results of the study found that our self awareness is generally pretty awful. For instance, one experiment showed that 57% of participants believed themselves to be assertive or excessively assertive.
This opinion contrasted completely with what their opponents in the negotiation thought of them, with the general opinion being that the assertive people were actually something of a pushover. What’s more, the same was found to be the case at the other extreme, so those who thought they were a pushover were thought by their peers to be assertive.
“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen,” the researchers conclude. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”
These results provide yet more evidence to support the introduction of regular, and candid, feedback into our professional lives. That is, of course, if we want our self assessments to become more accurate.