Our self-awareness is necessarily limited. As Daniel Kahneman and other researchers have found, the reasoning that drives our actions is often hidden from our conscious minds. Our motivations are usually no clearer to ourselves than they are to others.
Even if we had perfect knowledge of our own motivations, other people have their own viewpoints and may interpret our motives differently. The ability to see ourselves as others see us is an essential part of emotional self-awareness.
If we don’t get this right, it hampers our effectiveness as leaders. We risk being blindsided by other people’s unexpected interpretations of our actions, which will result in them feeling and acting differently to how we expect.
See yourself as others see you: the step David Brent missed
In the classic British sitcom “The Office”, terrible boss David Brent has to announce redundancies to his staff, but he tries to soften the blow by adding some good news:
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Neil will be taking over both branches, and some of you will lose your jobs. Those of you who are kept on will have to relocate to Swindon, if you wanna stay. I know, gutting. On a more positive note, the good news is, I’ve been promoted, so… every cloud. You’re still thinking about the bad news aren’t you?
(apologies for the video clip coming from the Daily Mail site – the clips on YouTube had either terrible picture quality or annoying background music edited in)
Brent is genuinely surprised that the people now worried about losing their jobs are not happy for him being promoted. He hasn’t given a moment’s thought to how he and his news will seem from their point of view.
It’s easy to avoid falling into the ‘David Brent trap’. Before you say or do something that affects other people, do what he doesn’t: take a moment to consider how the people affected will view your words or actions.
Put yourself in their shoes. How do you appear to them? Remember, this isn’t about what you would feel if you were in their position. Other people have different personalities; depending on their attitude to the world, the person may feel angry at what you say, or find it funny, or threatening, regardless of your intent in saying it.
You can never know for sure how other people will react. You can give it your best guess based on your past experience of them. If you know them well you can increase the odds of your guess being correct by (when you have some privacy) briefly standing as they stand, breathing as they breathe, and ‘becoming’ them in a method acting kind of way. How do you look to them now?
See yourself as a friend sees you
Another situation in which it’s useful to see yourself as you appear to others is if your self-esteem has taken a knock and you are feeling low.
How people feel about themselves is only partly influenced by their performance. We have all met people whose high opinion of themselves doesn’t seem to be based on anything, and equally you may well have friends who are good at what they do, are good people, and yet who lack self-worth.
Someone who feels that way usually has mental filters that screen out any good things that they do and make them play down or forget about all the achievements and qualities that they could be proud of. If you are feeling like that, try this ‘thought experiment’:
- Think of someone you like, and who you know loves or likes you. This could be a family member, a friend, or even a work colleague who values what you do.
- Imagine you are that person. Imagine you are looking at yourself through their eyes, noticing the good in you – your strengths, your qualities, your skills? From this viewpoint, notice how they feel when they look at you. Notice all the good qualities they associate with you that you may have forgotten about, and the examples they remember of when you showed those good qualities.
- Take as long as you need to notice and learn everything you need to learn from this perspective. And then bring all the positive learnings and good feelings with you as you come back to yourself.
- Take a moment to allow these positive learnings to integrate and become part of you, so they are will be there in future when you need them.
If you’ve tried either of these two methods to see yourself as others see you, please leave a comment below to tell us how you got on.