Accurate Self Awareness

I spend a lot of time talking to people about getting good feedback.  Usually, they’ve picked up somehow that everything is not going along as well as they’d like.  It could be a friend saying, “you should go talk with so-and-so, I think you two are not on the same page.”  Or, maybe it’s a boss telling you to shape up in a particular area.  Or, maybe you’ve noticed nobody will sit next to you in the cafeteria.

Humans are social animals
The human desire to achieve is outdone only by the human desire to fit in, so these kind of scenarios are usually unsettling at the core of your emotional well-being.  The “reptilian brain stem” portion of your brain starts sending signals to your body that you are in danger and you feel stress and anxiety.

Downward spiral

Downward spiral

Avoid the downward spiral
Over time, this is really bad for your body if you don’t deal with it. In the short term, this is really bad for your job because a lot of your energy is tied up in worry, defensiveness, etc.   Lots of people begin to “ping” those around them to see if this perceived threat is real.  Unfortunately, if this is not done well it feeds the problem and the spiral takes you down and then out to the market for a new job.

Tips for getting an accurate self assessment:

1. Ask better questions. A generic “how am I doing?” question usually leads to a neutral, safe response like, “fine.”  This gives you a false impression and accelerates the negative spiral by reinforcing your positive self image in the face of some legitimate concerns.  Instead of the generic, open-ended approach, ask a specific question about a specific concern you have.   See my “that’s a good question” post for some tips on this.

2. Ask the right people. In a panic situation, we tend to go to our closest allies for guidance and support.  But you need to build perspective when you are unsure, so extend your reach and ask some people you know will be more critical (helpful) and less inclined to protect you.  Having your feedback biased to your closer colleagues means your awareness is biased too.

3. Reduce risk for truthful input. Recognize that most people are not going to tell you their full critical opinion

Scaredy Cats

Scaredy Cats

because it is “risky” to do so.  They may not want to hurt your feelings, may feel their opinion is not important, may believe it’s not their place to be critical of you, or be afraid that they’ll get a reputation for being harsh or unforgiving.  Try these two ways to get the full story from others:

  • Build trust and be persistent.  Think of this like coaxing a cat out from under the bed.  Here kitty, kitty…
  • Provide an anonymous channel to you.  You can ask a friend to gather some input for you, or you can use a tool like Rypple to do it yourself.
  • Hi John – I’m new to the blog but am an IDEO fan and like what i’ve read so far. A comment unrelated to this post: “intersection” is spelled wrong in your header. Other than that, keep the good posts coming!

  • John Foster

    Ha! Thanks for pointing that out, Mike. Welcome to the conversation and let me know what you think along the way.

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