How to Find Out Who You Truly Are

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In the Mirror Series: How Seeing Ourselves More Clearly Can Make the World a Better Place

Part 2: Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…

Have you ever been merrily row, row, rowing along the river of life and suddenly had a rude awakening? Someone says something that upends your sense of who you are and now your row boat is steadily taking on water, if it hasn’t capsized already.

  • You are a selfish person.

  • You are not a team player.

  • You are a terrible father / daughter / [insert relationship]

What just happened?

A fundamental problem that all of us face is our ability to see ourselves clearly. Why is that, you might ask?

Our inability to see our true selves is a result of both lack of reliable feedback from those around us and our inability to distinguish from reliable and unreliable feedback.

Most of the time, other people are a poor mirror through which to see ourselves. Our friends, colleagues, and family, no matter how clearly they see us, generally sugarcoat things in order to avoid conflict or sometimes because they just don’t care enough to get into it with us.

In Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Kim Scott shares how in a work context, people develop best when they receive Radical Candor, which is when you are Challenged Directly by people who Care Personally about you.

Do you know someone, maybe they look like you, who during their performance evaluation is criticized for the first time about things that were never mentioned before? Does that make you more or less likely to be able to trust that feedback and benefit from it?

Do you know someone who has had a rough year performance wise, but it is never mentioned in the performance evaluation and instead they are given a generic “good” review?

And finally, do you know someone who is a wrecking ball in their personal life, but is always the last person to know and the knowledge usually comes in a severe fashion?

Why is this important, Joe? I have a good life and though I'm not perfect, do I really need to constantly worry about what others think of me? This sounds like a recipe for always being fearful and disappointing others.

I wholeheartedly agree that walking around constantly trying to please everybody is a recipe for disaster. Instead, what I’m focusing on is getting a realistic assessment of who you are. The reason this is important you need to see yourself as you truly are in order to improve.

Imagine a tennis player who has a horrible serve, but thinks it is great. So instead, they work day and night on their backhand and neglect their serve. This is find in the court of their mind and even during practice, but when it comes to the real game, they will falter.

So how do we get people to give us the candid feedback we need to improve?

Step 1. Ask sincerely for feedback. You’ll need to ask more than once and no one will believe that you really want it. So keep asking.

Step 2. When you receive feedback that upsets you or that find unbelievable, the only thing you should do is acknowledge the toughness of the feedback on you and thank the person for being courageous and caring enough to share it with you.

Step 3. In private, decide what you want to do with the feedback. Pay special attention to feedback you think is ridiculous, but more than one person has shared it.

The key thing to remember is you will grow tremendously and improve your life when you are able to see clearly the areas that need to be improved.

Your Move: Who will you dare ask for feedback? And how will you handle it?


Getting Feedback - the EZPZ way

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You don’t have to click too far to come across an article or podcast broadcasting the benefits of self-awareness. As for me, I’ve bought the ticket and I’m “All aboard!” the self-awareness train. The only challenge is, by definition people with poor self-awareness (I include myself in this group) don’t know what they don’t know. It’s a classic Black Swan. You don’t know what you don’t know and that is often the most important thing for you to know to unlock true value or change.

“Great Joe, thanks for telling me the obvious! So what can we do about it?”

You are the type of person that likes solutions. I appreciate that. One of the best ways to increase your self-awareness is to get feedback from others. A lot of people will suggest that you ask trusted advisors what they think or even to participate in anonymous 360 degree feedback. However, there are several inherent problems with this approach.

  • Separating out sour grapes from thoughtful feedback can be difficult.
  • People may be reluctant to tell you the whole truth, anonymous or not, for fear of repercussions.
  • Thoughtful feedback is a gift and if you're an oblivious horse's ass, maybe people won't care to give you that gift.
  • Finally, there is the huge problem of your ego getting in the way of you accepting any feedback at all. Replace the word “feedback” with “criticism” and the challenge becomes more clear cut.

“So if you are saying asking people can be problematic, what’s the alternative?”

The EZPZ way to get feedback is to pay more attention to how people act around you in specific situations.

Allow me to explain. It’s easy to go through life thinking of ourselves and others as individual, self-contained units. In other words, emphasizing the independent and free-willed nature that we have. However, in focusing on this aspect, we may forget how interconnected and responsive we are to each other. Think of yourself as a gear in a high performance race car. How you turn affects every other gear and vice-versa. So maybe you notice when a colleague walks into the room everybody brightens up and when you do it goes silent. That silence is feedback. Or maybe you notice every time you give a colleague a metaphorical “pat on the back” they seem happier and more motivated. That is also feedback. The truth is all the feedback we need is already out there for the taking if we just know how to look for it.

For me I would get negative feedback on my driving from my wife during a longer drive we take every few weeks to visit a relative. I (independent, free-willed me) wanted to drive the way I drove and would get frustrated at the feedback I was getting from my wife (also, independent and free-willed love of my life). To be clear, I did receive verbal feedback on my driving, but somehow it never translated into my driving in a way that made both of us happy. It just didn’t work.

Then, one day it dawned on me how in addition to being two individuals with different styles and preferences, we were also a system in that car. Not just husband and wife, but driver and passenger with each creating a feedback loop. So one day I decided to pay more attention to the feedback coming from my wife. I noticed in traffic how braking later led to one reaction and braking softer and earlier led to another (non) reaction. I noticed during clear stretches above a certain speed she seemed less uncomfortable and at others she was fine. And so on and so on.

This type of behavioral feedback has a few advantages. First, it doesn’t require you to separate truth from fiction or helpfulness from sabotage. People’s reactions to you are generally organic reactions and if you see the same behavior across different people, you can be sure that you are part of the equation. Second, it makes it easier to take your ego out of the equation. This is because instead of getting “judgments” from others about your behavior you are looking at people’s reactions and doing your own analysis of your role.

You are more likely to be persuaded and act on feedback that you generate from your own observations and analysis than the exact same feedback that is given to you by someone else.

Is that childish? Perhaps.

Is that normal and human? Definitely.

As I pulled into the driveway at the end of the drive and put the car into park, my wife smiled as she turned to me and said, “You did a really great job driving today! What happened?”

Ah, the power of feedback!

In summary, to get feedback that can help you improve your results, the EZPZ way:

Step 1. Pick a scenario you want feedback on

Step 2. Be yourself

Step 3. Observe how other people act

Step 4. Repeat the same situation with different people and repeat steps 2 and 3

Step 5. Think about what you observed and what this means about your role

Step 6. Make adjustments, as needed. Repeat until you get the desired result.

If you have any questions or comments or have a story of your own, I'd love to hear from you.

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.






 

Your World Is a Reflection of You


 

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I still remember that moment like it was yesterday, with an odd mixture of bemusement and shame. My very young son said something that sounded so obnoxious and so much older sounding than his years. I struggled to figure out where he learned this phrase, something along the lines of, "Well, that's not very helpful," and realized in horror he learned it from me!

Reality - 1, Joe's ego - 0. 

Most of the time, other people are a poor mirror through which to see ourselves. Our friends and colleagues, no matter how clearly they see us, generally sugarcoat things in order to avoid conflict, conserve energy and because of a relatively small investment in who we become.

Our parents know us better, but there are challenges here, too. Rose-colored glasses, guilt, or fear of damaging the relationship can all argue against sharing too much truth. 

Now on the other hand, our young children, they have no agenda. They just reflect back what they see and hear. Got a problem with road rage? Don't be surprised at the words and gestures they have magically learned. Stingy with tips? The same behavior will be modeled. As I learned that day, our young children are a brutally accurate mirror of who we are.

It's a gift really, if we open our hearts to accept the unintentionally provided feedback. It is a chance to really know ourselves better and without the doubts about the other person's agenda getting in the way.

Why is this important, Joe? I have a good life and though I'm not perfect, do I really need to take cues from a child? Or maybe I don't have a kid and I'm pretty happy with who I am. Why should I even bother thinking about this? 

You have every right to be happy with who you are and minimize consideration of feedback concerning yourself. Plenty of people go through life this way and seem to do alright.

The key thing to remember here is that your world is a reflection of who you are. We can only give what we have inside. And in a righteous twist of karma, we can only receive what we give. So if you want something in your life, you must possess it yourself first, and then give it to others. If you want a loving person in your life, you must love yourself AND be a person who gives love to others. Only then will love come into your life. There is no amount of power and money that will work to enable you to order up love and have it delivered to your doorstep like Amazon Prime same day delivery. 

On the other hand, if you find your life and the company you keep miserable, stop and consider for a second whether you are miserable inside and are unconsciously projecting and attracting the very misery you abhor by the way you move through life.

The world is configured to be a REFLECTION of who YOU ARE. And since the world is a reflection of you, you are the source. The source comes first.

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.