7 Jul 2019

Adam Grant: Do your co-workers know you better than you know yourself?

From Sunday Morning, 10:08 am on 7 July 2019
man covering his eyes

Photo: Public domain

When it comes to self-awareness, we all have blind spots, but we also have bright spots – talents and strengths we don't quite see.

To find out more about both, ask your colleagues, says psychologist Adam Grant. Their assessment of your personality will be nearly twice as accurate as your own.

  • Listen to Adam Grant speak about motivation and meaning here (24 February 2019)
Adam Grant

Adam Grant Photo: supplied

Feedback at work usually skews too positive, but one way to get around this is to ask people to give it in the form of stories, Grant says.

"If you really want to understand your strengths ... ask them all to tell you a story about you at a time when you're at your best."

Once you have this portrait of who you are in the eyes of your colleagues, look for common patterns – who am I at my best and what is it that activates those strengths?

Grant asked his own colleagues to also give him stories about himself at his worst, then analysed the themes.

"On the strengths side, every story about what I was good at was me helping someone else discover or use their strengths so I realised that I've got to make that part of my job.

"One of the places that I needed some serious work was I found out I was being too dismissive of others' ideas. I thought I was just being efficient."

Some things – such as our own level of assertiveness – are very hard for us to judge for ourselves, he says.

"I might feel like I'm being pretty assertive, but from inside my own head, I can't compare myself that accurately to how assertive everybody else is. Whereas if you were to look at me, you could easily see where I fit into a whole spectrum of people."

How generous we are is also tricky to determine, because we have access to every one of our own acts of generosity – and only a slice of other peoples' – so it's hard to make an accurate comparison, he says.

Beware a person who professes how smart they are.

"It's always a sign that someone lacks intelligence when they try to make a claim about how intelligent they are. If you were really bright you would know that you actually have to demonstrate intelligence as opposed to just stating it."

It is the insecure leaders who go around self-promoting and tooting their own horns, Grant says.

"The leaders who really care about making a team or an organisation great are the ones who work hard to shine the spotlight on others. That's how you elevate a team and I would sure love to see more leaders operate that way."

How we deliver criticism has a big effect on how people respond, he says.

One study showed that people are 40 percent more receptive to negative feedback if they hear something akin to these words ahead of it – 'I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you and I'm confident you can meet them'.

"[If I say these words] I've gone from attacking you to coaching you and showing you that I care about your success and I believe in your potential."

Psychologist Tasha Eurich found out something interesting in a study of people nominated by their peers as being extremely self-aware, Grant says.

"She found [these people] spent very little time psychoanalysing themselves… [They said] it doesn't really matter how I got the way I am. The question is how I do use the knowledge of myself to achieve my goals and make sure I don't get stuck in a box just because I see myself in a certain way?"