I work with another manager who often feels disrespected. Any challenge against his position, he sees as a personal attack.
He constantly complains about how people need to better respect his position. That people need to respect the hierarchy of the organization.
He’s like an unfunny Rodney Dangerfield.
“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He told me I was being ridiculous. I haven’t met everyone yet.” – Rodney Dangerfield
And as he whines about not getting any respect, he never sees that his behavior doesn’t earn it. It’s condescending. It’s belittling. And it’s self-serving. So it shouldn’t be a surprise as to why he’s treated like dirt every day.
Is there any hope for him? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe he’ll read this. Maybe he’ll show up at my office tomorrow angry. But I’m guessing his false world is so well insulated he wouldn’t believe this could possibly be about him.
But what I’m really interested in is why can’t he see what’s so obvious to the rest of us?
And could the rest of us be at risk for a similar self-delusion?
Do We See Our Real Selves?
“I don’t rely on mirrors so I always take Polaroids.” – Alicia Silverstone, Clueless
I usually hate the way I look in photos. But I’m happy with my reflection in a mirror. Well, happy enough I suppose. It’s a far cry better than that funny-looking guy in those pictures. So why the difference?
My wife’s photography skills are actually not to blame. I prefer my reflection because that reversed image is what I’m used to seeing. So I like that version better than the one that shows up in photographs. Which then happens to be the version that everyone else sees.
Psychologists refer to this as the mere-exposure effect, a bias where we’re more comfortable with what’s most familiar to us. When we appreciate the familiar, we develop a bias toward our typical behaviors. We see them in a different lens than others around us because we’ve gained that familiarity with them. So we’re insulated from the version of ourselves that we’re putting out into the world.
If we saw a photograph of our personality, would it look as good as the one we think we see in the mirror?
Are We As Good As We Think We Are?
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” – Voltaire
I’m a bad driver. I’ve finally come to this realization. But it took many people, over many years, telling me this fact before I finally accepted it.
Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger developed experiments that tested people’s actual abilities against their believed competence. They repeatedly found that people with poor abilities will overestimate their competence in that field. Those with poor skills or knowledge of an area can’t objectively evaluate their actual level of competence. So they tend to believe they’re performing well. But the reality is they just don’t know what “performing well” is supposed to look like.
That’s why 80 percent of people believe they’re better than average leaders. Or in a classic 1977 study, over 90 percent of professors rated themselves above average relative to their peers.
When we don’t have an objective gauge for high performance, it’s easy to fall victim to this bias. And to further insulate our view of ourselves from the one that’s on display to the rest of the world.
It All Comes Down to Self-Awareness
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman
Self-awareness essentially has two parts. Our internal self-awareness is understanding our values and our guiding principles. It tells us why we do the things that we do. And our external self-awareness is understanding how other people see us.
And while both are critical, I’d argue that most people understand their values and guiding principles. At an emotional level at least, they understand which actions and behaviors create positive feelings. And this helps them understand where they want to take their lives.
But with most of us, our external self-awareness isn’t nearly as developed. We have a tendency to believe that others see us as we see ourselves. But others don’t have the benefit of seeing our intentions. So while we may mean the best, others only get to see the final result. Which may or may not represent those values and guiding principles.
And we ignore this difference at our peril.
How Are You Showing Up?
“The main work of a trial attorney is to make a jury like his client.” – Clarence Darrow
Someone once bought me a coffee mug that said, “I Make A Great Second Impression.” Which was fairly generous for me at the time. I usually needed to rely on that fifth impression to swing the tide back in the positive direction.
Which used to cause me all sorts of unnecessary difficulties. I was constantly working to overcome bad first impressions. Once people gained a first impression, they saw everything I did through a filter that strengthened that belief. So if my first impression was too abrasive or harsh, people expected my subsequent actions to be so as well. And regardless of my intent, that’s how they interpreted them.
The halo effect – a form of confirmation bias – touches on our tendency to extend a liking or disliking of one specific aspect to other, unrelated areas. Studies have shown that more attractive people are believed to be more intelligent and more successful. Another study showed that attractive individuals received more lenient criminal sentences than unattractive ones, even though the same crime was committed.
With the lasting impact that each impression makes, it’s critical that we put forward a version of ourselves that we’re proud of. That we be more intentional about how we’re showing up to other people.
Make an Intentional First Impression
“Don’t leave it up to others to determine who you are or how you show up.” – Debbie Millman
In one of Tim Ferriss’s podcasts, Debbie Millman discussed her practice of having students consciously plan to be themselves on their best day. She discussed an exercise where people write a paragraph describing what they believe their first impression is. How do they show up and what do people perceive about them?
Then she asks them to write a second paragraph about what they’d like their first impression to be.
And afterward, she asks them to do write two sentences describing what version they projected today and what they want to project tomorrow.
None of which is about manipulating others to see an inauthentic view of ourselves. But to give others the benefit of seeing who we really are. And being intentional to make sure that our best version shows through.
We all have the opportunity to be more deliberate in how we show up to the world. To decisively put forward a view of ourselves that we’ll be proud for others to see.
And if we can do that, we’re much less likely to fall into the self-deluded trap of someone who can’t seem to understand why he “gets no respect.”