Are you Self-Aware? Of Course, You Are
I once managed an employee who excelled in specific job areas but struggled in others. He was strong at finding and building efficiency, which made him sacrifice valuable customer-facing time. And in a customer-facing business, efficiency may be necessary, but customer engagement and involvement are equally important. This was a point where we disagreed.
Having discussions about strengths and weaknesses is normal. In my experience, employees were mostly willing to work on areas but not this employee. When confronted with an alternative view of efficiency, “The procedure was a success, but the patient is dead,” – he couldn’t accept it. Clearly, we had hit a wall in the conversation, and we couldn’t proceed from there.
It got me focused on the general topic of feedback and, specifically – What allowed some people to see their blind spots while others could not?
That question led me to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias that prevents us from being objective about our abilities. It also explains why we sometimes can’t see what is incredibly apparent to others.
In the case of my staff member, he was exaggerating the benefits of efficiency and his contributions to it while overshadowing the drawbacks. He couldn’t see them. When I attempted to share this feedback with him, I became an issue to him. (This has been a common cycle in feedback, as it’s entirely reasonable to be defensive when receiving feedback, which is why many people avoid calling feedback, uh, feedback.)
To remove me from the equation, I suggested that he follow the below steps:
Ask for Feedback: As others share their objective perceptions of the benefits and drawbacks of the efficiency approach – it will first remove me from the conversation. It will then open a world of possibilities. My goal was that he would learn that there was a shadow side to his approach.
Keep Learning: I was beginning to understand that we were dealing with a Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. The efficiency critique was personalized quickly in all of our conversations – an indication of a Fixed mindset. As such, I felt it necessary to suggest continued learning. The hope was that he would open up his perception to other possibilities. Similar to asking for peer feedback – the goal was to create room for an alternative worldview that could exist within his world.
Two weeks after our conversation, he was re-orged to a different team. I always saw that as a missed opportunity for both of us. I hope he considered my suggestions, but I don’t know if I would have if I were in his shoes. Unfortunately, the cynic in me believes it was easier for him to ignore his old boss than accept his suggestions for improvement. Similarly, I never pursued whether he ever worked on that or, even more importantly, never checked to see if I was actually the issue.
References and Resources
Carol Dweck’s TED talk on the Growth Mindset
De La Soul – Me, Myself, and I
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala
Originally Published Feb 2, 2018