I’ve had the opportunity to coach many people regarding feedback they receive from others. Often this process includes a discussion about their multi-rater (commonly called “360”) developmental assessment results.
These assessments are often based on a set of organizational competencies and are used to help a person develop his/her leadership skills or other behaviors considered important for career development. I’ve noticed that most people fall into one of three categories regarding how they see themselves relative to how others rate them. Each of these categories can present a potential career development challenge.
What are the categories?
First, there are those who generally rate themselves lower relative to how others view their capabilities.
Second, there are those who generally rate themselves higher relative to how others view their capabilities.
And third, there are those who generally rate themselves ‘on par’ with how others view their capabilities.
Let’s discuss these one at a time.
People that rate themselves lower than others rate them. I won’t pretend to be a psychologist, but I think there are perhaps four main reasons why someone might rate him/herself lower than others rate them: 1) a cultural background that tells the person that he/she should be humble or modest about his/her capabilities; 2) a lack of objective feedback on which to calibrate one’s capabilities relative to peers; 3) a lack of confidence; or 4) an overestimation of the importance or relevance of his/her weaknesses relative to his/her strengths.
Regardless of the reason(s), consistently rating ourselves lower than how others view us can be detrimental to our career development. Why? Because our self-ratings may be an indicator of how we relate to and work with others, especially if our confidence is lacking. If we view ourselves as potentially less capable than how others view us, we may behave in a way that causes others to question our capabilities because we may not come across as very self confident. Or, we may pass up opportunities where we could stretch ourselves but we don’t take on the risk or challenge. Additionally, we may find that we don’t tend to speak up as much in meetings or in other settings, which means our team or organization may be missing out on our valuable insights and contributions.
People that rate themselves higher than others rate them. Once again, there could be many reasons why someone would rate him/herself higher than others do. In some cases, it may be that the person is trying to justify a promotion or pay increase, he/she may lack objective feedback on areas of improvement, or he/she may be overconfident in his/her capabilities.
Consistently overestimating our capabilities can also have career drawbacks that may be even more serious than the drawbacks that come from under-rating ourselves. Overestimating our capabilities can make it difficult for someone to give us helpful, constructive feedback. We may be less open to the messages, and others may be reluctant to share with us important feedback for fear of a lack of receptivity on our part. We may also be too impatient to “move up” or take on more responsibility, and find ourselves in a situation of constant disappointment and frustration for not getting the recognition we think we deserve. Additionally, we could find ourselves in a position of taking on too much too soon and getting in “over our heads” which could affect other team members and damage our career.
Finally, there are those whose self-perceptions are pretty closely aligned with how others view them. Usually, people who are in this category have received and internalized consistent and balanced messages about both strengths and development needs and they have a good self-awareness of how they are perceived by others.
The career development challenge for people in this category is to find ways to leverage their strengths further and to mitigate any perceived weaknesses. In other words, they must learn to not get too comfortable with the status quo and be led down the path that “I just need to keep doing what I’m doing and everything will be fine”.
So, in which category would you place yourself? How do you generally view your contributions compared with how others may view you?
Here are a few questions and tips to help you assess which of these categories you may fall into:
- How do you respond when you receive feedback or any kind of acknowledgement? Do you brush off compliments or accept them and note them as areas of strength? When someone offers a suggestion for improvement, do you take it in the spirit of someone trying to help, or do you get defensive and resist or reject the feedback?
It’s natural to have some resistance to feedback (both negative and positive), but don’t let the messages just slide off you without seriously considering their purpose and intent.
- Are there feedback messages you’ve heard and acknowledged, but ignored in terms of taking any action?
If you want to lose credibility quickly, just ask for feedback and then do nothing with it, or don’t communicate your follow-up plans and actions. Nothing frustrates people more than taking the time to provide suggestions to someone and then feeling like the person either didn’t hear the message(s) or ignored the feedback.
- When’s the last time (other than a performance review) that you’ve actually sought out specific feedback from others (beyond your direct manager)?
People who receive regular feedback are seen as higher performers than those who don’t. You’ll stay on course and move further ahead by knowing how you’re perceived by others. Don’t make assumptions about what others think about your contribution, find out!
You don’t have to participate in a formal multi-rater assessment to gather feedback. Even a simple email request to others, asking for feedback on a few specific items can be a great resource for your career development. Don’t ignore the informal conversations, project debriefs and other interactions that also can provide clues as to how others see you.
The key is to be flexible and acknowledge that while your self-perception is important, keeping in touch with others’ perceptions about you will help ensure you stay on track towards a successful career.