Getting to Know You
Self-awareness is a key ingredient to success at work. It is hugely helpful to know your own strengths and development areas, also how others perceive you.
The main way that we develop self-awareness is by being open to, and utilizing, feedback. Yet research shows – and perhaps your own experience confirms - that despite its importance, all too often, people are not receptive to feedback even when it's constructive.
There is a slide that I use when I provide the results of 360 degree feedback to groups of managers, and it’s called the Top 10 Reasons to Ignore Developmental Feedback. They are:
- 1. These people don’t know me very well
- 2. My job requires me to act this way
- 3. They have an axe to grind
- 4. I used to be this way but I’ve changed
- 5. This was a bad time to do this survey
- 6. People didn’t understand the question
- 7. I picked my harshest critics on purpose
- 8. There’s something wrong with the scoring
- 9. This must be someone else’s report
- 10. It’s all true but I just don’t care
And believe me, there are many more.
Why are we so resistant to feedback that could help us to become more effective? The short answer is because it makes us feel less positive about ourselves, and less certain about what we are actually like.
Research has shown that people are more likely to accept feedback when it is self-enhancing, or positive, than when it is critical. And if it is critical, we accept it much more readily when it is self-verifying, or when it confirms what we already believe about ourselves. When feedback runs counter to these two powerful tendencies, it has a hard time making an impression on us.
This research is summarized in a recent article by Erika Carlson, a psychologist and researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. Carlson goes on to show that, perhaps not surprisingly, we often don’t have a very accurate view of what we are really like: “Overall, there is a moderate relationship between self-reports and criteria that reflect a person’s actual personality [my enhancement].” She adds, “People are often unaware of how they behave, how and why they make certain decisions, what truly motivates them, [and] how they will behave in the future.” So if you think you know yourself pretty well, there’s a good chance that you’re missing something.
Happily, Carlson also has a recommendation for how to develop a fuller and more accurate understanding of ourselves, and it’s not taking a personality assessment or a 360. Rather, Carlson suggests that the best way to get to know yourself better is through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the nonjudgmental awareness of present moment experience, which is developed through the regular practice of meditation, among other means.
Practicing mindfulness helps people become more open and receptive to valuable feedback in two ways.
- Access to information. Mindfulness gives you access to a whole new source of top quality information: feedback from your own direct experience of yourself. Mindfulness meditation involves bringing open, non-judgmental awareness to your internal experience – your physical sensations, your emotions, and your thought patterns. So through this practice, you are able to gain primary insight into how your own mind works. You are able to see your mental habits, impulses and triggers, in sharp relief when they are not hidden by the noise and busyness your daily life. If you’ve never meditated, you will be surprised by what’s going on in the background of your mind all the time. And if you have, you know exactly what I mean. It can be a humbling experience.
- Openness to feedback. An important element of mindfulness is actively cultivating an attitude of openness, curiosity and non-judgment toward your experience: to let reality be the way it is without running it through our usual ego-defensive filters. Through mindfulness practice you learn to quiet the ego’s need for self-enhancement and self-consistency, and become more receptive to useful feedback, even when it is critical. This applies to what you may become aware of during meditation, and also to feedback that you get on the job.
The benefits of mindfulness practice in enhancing emotional well-being and mental capacity have been well established. We are now seeing increasing research that shows a relationship between this practice and workplace effectiveness. Are you too busy to try meditation? Are you convinced that you “can’t do it” even though you’ve never really tried?
I have another chart that I’ve developed for my clients, called the Top 10 Reasons Not To Meditate. These are the top two. And believe me, there are many more. But just as with developmental feedback, if you choose to pass up this opportunity without investigating it, you may be missing out on something of great value.
Andy Lee is a partner at Working Mindfully, a firm that offers mindfulness training and mindfulness-based coaching and consulting to organizations. Andy has worked with corporations to assess and develop their leadership talent for over 15 years, both as a talent management executive and an executive coach and consultant. During this time he has also studied and practiced meditation. In 2010 Andy merged his two passions to provide mindfulness-based leadership development services to organizations. Andy holds an MA in Organizational Psychology and a certificate in executive coaching, and has been trained in mindfulness instruction at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.