It has been said time and time again that we, as individuals, tend to have the least perspective on what we have to offer.
We spend so many hours of the day thinking about ourselves, without even realizing it and — as it turns out — without gaining any real understanding of how we impact the world and the people around us. We think we know what we’re good at; we think we know how the things we say affect others.
But we don’t!
For a long time, I thought my only skills were technical ones. I spent my whole life being interested in math and science, and I loved being a software engineer. I was really good at my job too; so why wouldn’t I assume that this was the thing I was most meant to do?
But it turns out that my managers in my earliest roles saw something that I never did: I was a great communicator too. I had a knack for breaking down really big, technical ideas and explaining them in a way anyone in the company could understand. I was good at getting people on the same page and making sure everyone had all the information and support they needed.
In other words, I was a leader. But I had no idea.
Have you ever overheard a friend or relative describing you to someone else? Or maybe a manager has nonchalantly mentioned something that’s not a strength of yours — only you thought it was one of the biggest things you were bringing to the table?
We tend to be really surprised when we learn how other people see us. And while it can be surprising when people’s image of us doesn’t align with our image of ourselves, this is really valuable information that shouldn’t be shrugged off just because you don’t agree with it.
Outside perspective gives you power
When you know how other people see you, suddenly a world of opportunity opens up. (Tweet this!)
The way you have been operating throughout your life and your career is shifted, because now you have all this new information about how you are affecting — and can change your affect on — everything around you.
For example, maybe you find out that people in your office think you’re a hothead. People see you as someone who goes from zero to furious the second something doesn’t go your way. If you adopt an attitude of, “That’s not how I am! And if they see me that way, that’s their problem.” then you are missing an enormous opportunity to leverage the information you now have.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re overreacting or getting too upset over situations, but now you know that other people do. You have the key to improving your office relationships; now it’s just a question of whether you’ll use it or not.
How can you do it? For our hothead example, you can take more time than you think you need to consider a situation and decide how you’ll react to it. Show people you are thinking things over; try out strategies for problem-solving, and make an effort to slow your reactions to new information.
You don’t have to change who you are. You just have to know how your behavior impacts other people. And decide that it’s important enough to work on.
When I first started having to lead meetings and pitch investors for startups, I found out from other people that I talked *way* too fast. To me, I sounded completely normal! But when other people heard me, it was hard to understand what I was saying, and my rapid speech made me seem more nervous and unprofessional.
This was an embarrassing, but incredibly helpful insight. I studied ways to slow down my speech and eventually discovered that if I just added a beat between words and sentences — even though it felt crazy unnatural to me — I was able to come across more clearly and slowly to the important people I was speaking with.
If I had disregarded this information, I probably wouldn’t have made it into the world of public speaking, giving talks to crowds of thousands at conferences around the country.
Your action item: get that “who am I” intel
Now that we know how important getting insights from others is: how exactly do we get it?
Well, the short answer is feedback. In it’s simplest form, feedback is essentially you giving another person the opportunity to answer the question: “So, what do you think of me?”. And it is so incredibly helpful in getting that valuable insight to develop the best version of yourself that you can.
The only problem with directly asking someone to give you feedback is that not everyone is comfortable doing it. Sure, managers get asked to give people on their team feedback all the time (and if you’re not already doing 1:1 meetings with your manager, you should be!) but asking peers and friends to “review” you can make them feel a bit uncomfortable.
So here’s how you can do it effectively — by asking them in an email, and keeping it super positive.
[Hat tip to Danielle LaPorte for this excellent idea and genius questions!]
Send an email asking for insights into your strengths. Send it to one friend or peer this week. And try it again with someone new next week! And again!
Here’s a sample template you can use for this email:
I am working on improving myself, personally and at work, and you are someone whose opinion I truly value. If you are willing, I would be so appreciative if you would answer some or all of the questions below to help me gain some insight into my strengths and the things I do best.
I really appreciate it, and would be happy to do the same for you if you’d like! :)
: What do you think is my greatest strength?
: How would you describe my style?
: What do you think I should let go of?
: When do you feel that I am at my best?
: What do you wish I were less of, for my sake?
: When have you seen me looking my most fabulous?
: What do you think I could give myself more credit for or celebrate more?
Why only one person a week?
The person answering your email is doing you a huge favor by providing you with valuable insight into how you are perceived. You should do them the huge favor of giving their feedback your full attention. By having just one message to process per week, you are able to devote plenty of time and thought to the ideas they have shared with you — and you’ll be more able to take action on the things they have suggested.
Why only strengths?
Talking about someone’s strengths is usually a lot easier for a first-time feedback giver. Plus, hearing what you’re really good at can often be more productive than hearing what you’re not so great at. It gives you things to work on actively (rather than eliminating things) and is also a great way to start a conversation about 360-degree improvement, if your friend is willing, later on.
Isn’t this embarrassing?
Actually, most people feel really honored when asked for their feedback, because we always like to be asked what we think. (Don’t you?) So I have found that most people will take this kind of exercise very seriously, and will do their best to give you real answers and not make you feel silly for trying to improve yourself. After all, you are being vulnerable to them, which makes them more likely to feel touched that you chose them to be vulnerable with, and they’ll work hard to give you really helpful feedback.
What are other creative ways to get feedback? Have you tried anything recently that helped you gain insight into your strengths or weaknesses? How are you putting it into action?