Given the impressive abilities we as a species possess, it seems odd that we are not more skilled at understanding ourselves and our impact on others. However, there are valid reasons that prevent us from hearing and seeing ourselves in a clear light. Let’s explore some of them….
No one wants to disrupt or lose the reputation they’ve so carefully constructed about themselves, because how we see ourselves is crucial to our levels of confidence and therefore, to the way we behave, the results we achieve, and even the quality of our lives.
No one wants to lose their sense of importance (a too-often vaulted sense) that incidentally, can not only be detected by the speaker’s excessive focus on themself, but through the kind of body language that shows a lack of interest in the opinions and words of others. For if we did see and hear ourselves, then we might have to look at why we’re using our positions of power to continually steer the dialogue, why seventy percent of a conversation is about us, why others are bored by what we’re saying, and why our own eyes glaze when others are speaking.
No one wants to face the discomfort of having behaved poorly with others.
In other words, we’re practicing a kind of wilful blindness that allows us to hide our behaviour from ourselves.
On a more positive note, one of the reasons we do not see ourselves clearly is that we are, of necessity, dependent on one another. And so, we must look to others… to colleagues, clients, friends, family members, and partners/spouses for help, for their capabilities, for their insights, and for their feedback.
Given that we typically view ourselves in implausibly positive ways, feedback is an antidote to those illusions. Those among us who are strong enough to offer it when asked, deserve thanks, for their words let us ‘see’ our missteps and faults, and hopefully, the agendas creating them.
If we’re strong enough to put aside our defensiveness or sense of resistance to uncomfortable feedback, then we could reflect on what we were told, and hopefully, learn from it and grow.
You might not want to seek feedback from others, but if it’s possible that your communication skills, or the way in which you behave is doing you a disservice, then you can provide yourself with feedback instead, and here’s how.
As you get ready for a meeting/conversation/gathering, pay attention to that inner voice urging you to get an opinion/idea/argument across.
Then, when you’re with others, pay attention to the urge… the impatience to get it said. Afterwards, ask: “In what ways did I push myself and/or my agenda forward? What would have happened if I’d let things take their natural course, if I’d listened to what this or that person said instead of putting myself front and centre?” (Yes, we all must steer the conversation from time to time, and of course we’re expected to raise salient points and stand up for our needs and goals, but the continuing and overbearing need to ‘push’, is irritating to everyone within earshot.)
Another option is to track how many times you say ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ when conversing with others. We mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. If you are excessively focused on yourself (your wants and needs, your perspective), if you harp on the same point, or are intent on steering and/or controlling the conversation, your inner agenda is likely fixated on and is pressuring you to prove your importance. On the other hand, if you also give considerable time and attention to the other person’s (or people’s) perspective(s), then you’re asking questions or seeking clarification, meaning that you’re not only interested in what the others have to say, but that you see yourself as a part of the conversation rather than needing to always be its driving force.
If you ask others to give you honest feedback about the way you communicate, you’ll hopefully get the truth, but sometimes it’s delivered in such a diplomatic or indirect way that you still keep some unhelpful illusions about yourself.
If you ask yourself for feedback and listen honestly – really honestly – you’ll get the bare-bones truth… a truth that could dispel wilful self-blindness, and instead, offer clarity.