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Archive for the Category "Communication Skills"

Enough with the mind reading: get a 360 feedback! Nov 02

I find that a whole lot of people worry about how others perceive them. They worry, and that’s it. They don’t do anything to actually get a realistic view on the matter. At best, they just try to guess it, they try to mind read it and every once in a while, they ask a person they feel comfortable with what she thinks about them.

If what others think about you is something that’s on your mind, do yourself and your personal development a favor, and do something effective about it: get a proper 360 degrees feedback (aka 360).

A 360 is an assessment of your person, from multiple sources. It is usually given by supervisors, peers and subordinates. Clients, suppliers can also chip in, and even friends or family if you wanna get a perspective beyond you professional life.

I used a 360 degrees feedback for myself repeatedly and I often use it with clients. The fact that it is structured and rich in information makes the results very meaningful. You won’t find out perfectly how everybody sees you, but it’s certainty a lot more scientific than guessing.

I think there are 3 main things you can do with the information you gain from a 360 degrees feedback, other than just wondering why people think you’re selfish when you buy everybody Christmas presents:

  1. Discover the traits you project with ease in any situation and use this for personal branding.
  2. Discover the traits you repress, you hide from others, and use this for becoming more expressive.
  3. Discover your strengths and weaknesses you may not have been aware of, and use this for personal development.

Knowing about the tool is one thing. Using it effectively is another. Here are my top tips for making the most out of a 360:

  • Use a standardized questionnaire for everyone that gives you feedback;
  • Ask specific questions and use very clear phrasing;
  • Ask for feedback from people that know you and care about you;
  • Allow the option of anonymous feedback to help people be more honest;
  • Get feedback from at least 10 people to have representative results;
  • Remember that how others see you is not necessarily how you are.
  • Remember it’s just a feedback, not a flawless evaluation tool.

Getting a 360 degrees feedback takes some effort and most importantly, some courage. Most of us are not used to asking others for clear and specific feedback about ourselves. Asking for it is a statement that we are vulnerable to their perception and it’s a request for something some find risky to give: honest evaluations. Expect this to take you and them out of your comfort zones, and embrace it.

If you’re interested in a specific 360 degrees feedback tool, I recommend 360°Reach by William Arruda. It’s an online assessment that’s well designed, easy to use for personal development or branding, and you can try it free of charge for 15 days. So, enjoy it!

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Sometimes forgiveness isn’t the answer Oct 27

This guy I know, he has a habit of making fun of other people he knows in various social contexts (parties, discussions, meetings etc.). My theory is he does this mostly to attract attention and show off. A while later, he will be talking to the person he made brutal fun of and saying: “I hope you didn’t take my jokes seriously. I was just having some fun. I’m sorry if they affected you!

This is his way of asking for forgiveness, which almost always works. I know that forgiveness is seen across the globe as a virtue, but I think there are cases in which it’s a weakness people can use to manipulate you. This is one of those cases.

Forgiveness is a complicated and slippery word. Its exact meaning is hard to pin down. What does a person mean exactly when she is asking forgiveness? Is it just an emotional thing? The way I see it, she is actually asking for 3 things, the last 2 things being a bit more subtle. She is asking that:

  • You don’t feel bad or angry at her for what she did;
  • You don’t form a negative perception about her for what she did;
  • You don’t change your behavior towards her in a negative way.

The first part, I think it’s a good idea. Whenever someone does something towards you that you don’t like, get over it emotionally as fast as possible. Not for that person, but for you. The other two, well, that’s where I have a problem with forgiveness.

When the guy I was talking about asks for forgiveness, he is actually saying “Don’t’ feel bad”, but he is also saying “Don’t think of me as a mean person” and “Don’t stop being my friend or helping me, just because I made fun of you repeatedly”. Doesn’t it sound like an arrogant, selfish and absurd request when you put it this way?

People fall into this trap every day. Because we are taught that if a person is really sorry for something she did, she apologizes and seems to be hurting, then we owe her as decent human beings to forgive her (according to the definition of forgiveness presented above).

We don’t. Talking in terms of equity, it is natural and effective to change your perception about a person’s character depending on her consistent behavior patterns, as well as your own behavior towards her. It’s how things go with mature, responsible people.

Asking forgiveness is often just a way for a person to not assume true responsibility for her behavior and its consequences.

My advice: whenever a person repeatedly asks forgiveness from you for a repeated behavior, give her just the first part of forgiveness. And tell her that. Let her know that you got over they way she acted, but it does influence your perception of her and your behavior towards her. And if she doesn’t like that, let her give some forgiveness.

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Knowing what others think and feel: you don’t Oct 15

Him: “My boss doesn’t like me.

Me: “How do you know?

Him: “I know it. I can tell.

Me: “Really? How?

Him: “I just can. It’s a gut feeling.

Me: “So you’re a mind reader now…

It amazes me how confident people are when it comes to telling what other people are thinking and feeling from subtle behavioral cues. Especially if it’s about them, and it’s negative. Even the people who otherwise are not very confident.

I used to do this. When it came to other people, I prided myself on being a very good “mind reader”. Over time, I changed my perspective about that. Sure, there are cues, there are non-verbal signals, there are readable emotions. But the bottom line: mind reading involves a lot of guess work passing as skill.

Why do we generally trust our ideas about what others think and feel so much? Personally, I blame it a lot on trusting to much our feelings/ intuition. We say to ourselves “This person doesn’t like me” or “This person thinks I’m an idiot” and we get a feeling of certainty associated with that thought, a subjective validation. Then we say to ourselves “I know it!

No you don’t! Your intuition about this kind of stuff can only be trusted if it’s very well in tune with the objective reality around you. Which most probably, it’s not. Because more probably, your intuition filters your judgments through a couple of deep routed irrational beliefs such as:

  • People don’t like me.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • People are bad and mean.

So what comes out as your intuition about other people’s thoughts and feelings is based more on what’s inside than on what’s inside: your beliefs, your need for certainty and for an excuse regarding various aspects. Intuition can be a powerful thing to have and to use, but only if it’s not “polluted”.

The human psychic is a complex system of thoughts, wants and feelings, which manifest externally in a complex system of behaviors and subtle cues. Reading them accurately is just as complicated. This is why I’m a skeptic when it comes to good “mind reading” skills. The fact of the matter is, there are exactly 3524 things a person might be thinking or feeling in a certain situation, half of which have nothing to do with you.

So next time, instead of guessing what someone is thinking or feeling, try letting go of the need for certainty and admitting you simply don’t know. Or better yet, just ask her. You may actually get an honest answer.

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Avoid manipulation by understanding your emotional buttons Oct 03

One thing I’ve been realizing with a lot of clarity in the past few years is how people can easily manipulate you if they’re capable of pushing the right emotional buttons. They seem to get you to feel bad if you don’t do things their way. You feel without choice, you feel trapped and you’re looking for a way out…

Your emotional buttons are closely related to your social needs. We all want to be loved, accepted, approved by others. These are normal, healthy human needs. But when these needs become very strong, very intense, they’re no longer healthy and they take over our lives. They become strong emotional buttons other people can push to manipulate us.

One client of mine was constantly manipulated by her boss when she had a request of him. Whenever her boss anticipated that she wanted to ask for something, he made her feel selfish and bad for it in advance. By saying things like “You always want something! Everybody wants stuff from me around here!” She often felt so bad that she ended up ignoring her wants and not making her requests, even though they were justified.

Her very strong need not to be seen as selfish, her dependency of other people’s approval was one big red emotional button for others to push. As she became more aware of this, as part of her personal development, she started recognizing the situations in which this dependency was getting the better of her and stared actively fighting it.

If you can think of situations with various people in which you feel trapped, than it’s time to ask yourself: “Which are my emotional buttons?” Look carefully at these situations one at a time, notice your emotions in each one and try to understand what specific words and behaviors the other person uses seem to trigger them. Analyze the data like a detective and look for the patterns.

In time, this exercise of observation and introspection will make you more aware of your emotional buttons, you very strong social needs and how they can be used in manipulating you. Maybe you’ll discover that:

  • You have a strong, dependency-like need to be approved by those close to you;
  • You can’t stand to lose someone’s respect, no matter who that person is;
  • You feel intimidated by people with a high social or professional status.

For every person, there is a specific combination of specific needs and vulnerabilities relating to others. Knowing and understanding them is the first important step in avoiding manipulation and getting more control over your own life.

Then comes the second important step: addressing and gradually changing your emotional reactions, your communication style and your behavior. It takes time, the right personal development tools and consistent effort, but the options it gives you definitely make it worth you while.

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