As Others See Us

July 28, 2014 Max Isaac

And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us…

—Robert Burns, To a Louse

Human beings as a rule are notoriously poor at grasping the impact they have on a situation and how they may be contributing to any dysfunction they see. Here’s one example:

 
Vince was an ambitious manager at a financial services firm. Very career driven, he was frustrated that he couldn’t advance more quickly into the upper levels. Senior executives, however, were hesitant to promote Vince further up the ladder because the water cooler talk was that he was impossible to work with: excessively demanding; focused solely on making sure his own goals were met without regard to the needs of staff reporting to him.

Several braver employees had tried to talk to Vince about how his abrasive behavior was alienating his staff over the years, but they soon learned how fruitless those efforts were. As soon as they’d raise the subject, Vince would cut them off. He didn’t say much, but his body language was screaming “Don’t want to hear this!”

When asked to describe Vince, people who worked with him would use words like inflexible, perfectionist, self-centered, impatient, and over-sensitive. No one would mention thoughtful, caring, observant .… which would have stunned Vince. He considered himself a very caring person, and would tell you that he valued people very highly. But other people did not see that side of him.

This mismatch between what Vince thought his style of interacting was and how others perceived him is nothing unusual. Quite the opposite; few of us see ourselves the same way as others do. What’s important, however, is that in this case and in many others like it, the mismatch between a person’s self-perception and how others saw them created a situation where poor interaction was the norm. (And the irony was that by being so single-mindedly focused on his career, Vince had sabotaged his ability to advance because of the impact he had on others around him!)

 

Once he learned about this mismatch, Vince acknowledged that he was unaware of how his behavior had been affecting others, and came to recognize that he had not created a work environment that would produce the best results for the business. We worked with him and his team over the course of several months, helping them identify better ways of sharing information and collaborating with each other. Vince struggled to overcome his habit of acting abrasively, but the end effect was communication improved among his staff, and people were more motivated to contribute because they knew Vince was more likely to listen to them and consider their ideas.

Vince’s situation holds several key lessons when it comes to improving interaction. First, it’s clear that what matters most in terms of our workplace effectiveness is how other people view us: only the people we are trying to interact with can judge the impact (good or bad) of our behavior. Second, we can’t learn about the true impact of our behavior if we shut off our interactions with others. We have to be open to hearing honest feedback from others.

The more we work at developing a greater awareness of how our behavior affects others, the more our vision of ourselves will match how others see us. That sets off a positive cascade: people are more likely to trust the motives and intentions of someone who invites input on their behavior and incorporates it into their personal development plans.

If you’re interested in finding out more:

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About the Author

Max Isaac

Max is the CEO of 3Circle Partners. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia. Max has assisted CEOs and senior leaders within client organizations with the design and implementation of Interaction Planning processes, team based organizational development programs and Lean Six Sigma initiatives.

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