Who Knows You Best, You or Others?

Imagine an upcoming charity event where flowers are being sold for $5 to raise money for a worthy cause that is close to your heart. How many would you buy? 1…2…10? Now imagine your co-workers are asked to buy flowers at the same event. How many would they buy?
This same scenario was used in some experiments by Nick Epley and David Dunning at Cornell University. They found that:
1. Participants greatly overstated the amount of flowers they would buy.
2. They were very close in their estimates of how many flowers others would buy.
These findings support the idea that we overstate our own abilities, but are better able to rate the abilities of others because we are careful observers of others’ overt behaviors.
During any given week, I coach leaders who share the common characteristic of seeing themselves through rose-colored glasses.  Often I will present a 360 report which shows self scores that are significantly higher than those they work with. When asked for an explanation, the most common answer is “I know myself better than others.” But if research in Clinical and Social Psychology teaches anything it is that self-perceptions are fraught with error and are clouded with the desperate need to maintain a positive self-image and defend the ego.
A sure-fire way to minimize these thinking errors is to be presented with data that incorporates the perspective of others.  When many people that we work with are giving us feedback that we need to change (through 360 degree feedback or an employee engagement survey), it is difficult to maintain self-delusions.  This is why organization and leadership assessments are so critical in creating a culture where people can grow and develop…after, of course, they buy 10 flowers for their favorite charity.

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