Three Lies You Should Stop Telling Yourself Right Now
Our human ability to self-deceive and rationalize is a powerful force.
We all engage in it. In fact, we’re experts at it.
Our brains are wired to seek data that confirms what we already believe, and worse, to assume we’re rational when in fact we create irrational mental short cuts to manage discomfort or uncertainty.
And I don’t know about you, but I see a whole lot of discomfort and uncertainty in the average workplace these days.
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely and journalist Jonah Lehrer have written two of my favorite books on the subject, Predictably Irrational and How We Decide. If you want to find out why we’re a debt-addled population or why job interviews are unreliable, you’ll learn both and more by paying attention to this branch of human motivation. (Ariely and Lehrer write excellent blogs as well if you want to shock yourself out of complacency on a regular basis.)
Self-deception is a facet of ourselves we should always be guarding against. That’s why having a trusted mentor or friend to give you a gut check is critical. It’s also why solid, regular, constructive feedback is a requirement if you want behavioral change.
Otherwise, it’s the path of least resistance upstairs, baby.
In my coaching work, I run smack into self-deluding rationalization on a daily basis. Most of the time it’s there to dodge fear or pain. Other times, it’s used as an excuse for laziness or intractability.
Here are three of the most common lies I hear people tell themselves — all of which can cause significant damage in your career. See if any sound familiar to you, and where the truth lies.
Lie: People aren’t paying that much attention to what I do.
Whether it’s in relation to how late you come in, how much Internet surfing you do, or how often you skip meetings, this line of thinking is well-used. It also gets twisted into a guise for humility, in other words, “I don’t think I’m so important that other people bother noticing me.” Well care they do, and a lot. Research shows that in all hierarchies, from ape tribes to Fortune 500 management, people are exquisitely aware up the chain what their supervisors are doing. We know who controls our fate, and so we’re paying close attention to their actions, mood, and even body language. (This is why when you were a kid you knew exactly when to ask your parents for money…and more importantly, when to hold off.)
It’s not just supervisors we pay attention to either. Our peers’ opinions of us are shown to be the most highly considered of all feedback. We’re invested in comparing our activities against theirs at every turn. And finally, employee management issues keep coaches like me in business. Managers spend a great amount of time trying to ameliorate and change employee behavior, down to small details. (The term micromanagement exists for a reason.)
Truth: People notice far more than you want to believe they do. Be clear about what you want your personal brand to be, and make sure your actions underline — rather than undermine — it.
Lie: My work speaks for itself.
This is a classic delusion for anyone who hates the idea of self-promotion in any form. It’s also a convenient rationale for introversion or for those who abhor corporate politics.
I really, really do wish life were this righteous. It’s simply not.
You can do the best job in the world, but it can only be recognized if others can see why it’s so terrific. Some managers are wonderful at promoting their team’s good deeds. Most are well-meaning but busy, and don’t always think about it. And some will pass your work off as their own. Plus, there’s no telling who will be your manager tomorrow.
Career-minded professionals need a web of advocates to see their good work, and that requires speaking for your work, instead of assuming your work will speak for you. Find platform opportunities to showcase your work. Sign up for cross-functional projects. Hold lunch and learns for important issues in your domain. Offer to help others solve a problem similar to one you’ve fixed. Get out in your industry as an expert. The onus is on you.
Truth: Recognition requires visibility. You don’t have to self-promote. Instead, consider how to promote your work and ideas that matter to you. (Find tips here.)
Lie: If someone has a problem with me, they’ll tell me.
No news can be good news, or it can mean that others don’t want to face the uncomfortable situation of providing negative feedback. Our anxiety over telling someone else they’re failing is evidenced at every level of an organization. Even CEOs struggle with delivering negative feedback to their team. People wait until a small issue has ballooned before addressing it — and then it’s a big, hairy problem for everyone.
The human concern about hurting others is a wonderful personal trait; it’s just not all that helpful when it comes to performance management. And if it’s hard to deliver feedback about a work product, imagine how rare people say what they really feel about a person! Wouldn’t it be good to know that others tune out when you talk? Or that you’re seen as being out for yourself? Good luck getting someone to tell you that out of the blue.
You need to know where you stand at all times, on all facets of your performance. Otherwise, you can’t course correct to keep small issues from becoming derailing ones.
Truth: If you want to know how you’re really perceived, reach out to people whose opinion you trust and ask them two questions:
- What is the overall perception of me?
- What could I do or change that what most impact my success?
You’ll get a wealth of valuable information. If you wait to hear from others, you’re flying blind.
These are a few of the lies I hear, but there are plenty more. Let’s get them out in the light. Share here or @kristihedges.
Note: This post also appears on Forbes.com.
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