April 27, 2018

You're not as self-aware as you think you are

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on March 10, 2020.

    It's tempting to believe that you know yourself better than anyone else does, but in truth, it's your coworkers who know you best, writes Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of Business, in The Atlantic.

    Infographic: Here are 4 ways to be a less-stressed leader

    Why it's so hard to know yourself

    Not every trait is equally difficult to know about yourself. According to Grant, self-evaluation is most effective on "traits that are tough to observe and easy to admit." For example, you have a front-row seat to your own emotions, and it's socially acceptable to admit to feeling anxiety, so you probably can do a decent job of evaluating your own emotional stability.

    But you'll have a much harder time judging your own intelligence and creativity. "You probably want to convince everyone—and yourself—that you're smart and creative," Grant writes. As such, you're likely to overestimate your own intelligence and your level of other desirable traits, such as generosity.

    So if you can't evaluate yourself accurately, who can? Romantic partners and friends may know you well, but they're also biased toward seeing you in a positive light. Coworkers, on the other hand, are less biased and "have a vested interest in making you better (or at least less difficult)."

    3 ways to increase your self-awareness

    While it's tough to overcome the biases that limit your self-awareness, it's not impossible, Grant writes. He offers three suggestions for ways to get to know yourself better.

    1. Spend time with others in high-intensity situations. Grant uses the example of a group of astronauts who were training for a mission on the International Space Station. Before their launch, NASA sent them into the wilderness for 11 days, where they rapidly got lost. The astronauts said that they "came out of that experience knowing each other better than colleagues they'd worked with for years." By allowing others to see you in intense moments, and by listening carefully to what they say, you can gain greater insight on your true personality.

    2. Write a "user manual" for yourself—and seek your coworkers' input. Grant writes that taking a look "under your own hood at what makes you tick and writing it down" can be very useful, and one way to do that is by writing a "user manual" that describes "what brings out the best and worst" in you. But because of your limited self-awareness, you can't write your "manual" alone; you'll need input from colleagues. That's the approach taken by Morning Star, a successful tomato processing company, where employees write their own job descriptions based on what they think they'll contribute—but also must make sure their coworkers agree.

    3. Seek feedback from as many people as possible. According to Grant, studies show that one friend is typically "only a little better at gauging a person's intelligence and creativity than they themselves are," but "four friends are significantly better." If you believe yourself to be highly organized but five of your closest coworkers disagree, "it's tough to argue that you're right and they're wrong" (Grant, The Atlantic, 3/1).

    Next, here are 4 ways to be a less-stressed leader

    Stress is endemic in today’s health care workforce, but the good news is that leaders have much more control over their stress levels at work than they might think. The most effective leaders take steps to proactively keep their own stress in check—while modeling healthy habits for their teams.

    Use this infographic to review effective stress management strategies that can help you become a less-stressed leader.

    Get the Infographic

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