You Are…As You Are Seen By Others

June 16, 2013 by Ken Nowack

“My reputation grows with every failure.”

George Bernard Shaw


How are we seen by others?

Are we seen the same by our boss, colleagues, family members, friends and others?

What are they actually evaluating?

Current research suggests that we are globally evaluated by everyone on two universal aspects of human behavior1. These include:

  • Competence (our skills, abilities and signature strengths)
  • Warmth (our interpersonal connection with others)

When we use 360-degree feedback in talent management and coaching interventions, we have an interesting way to compare self-evaluations with those of others2.

Research consistently shows that ratings between direct reports, peers, supervisors, self and others overlap only modestly3.

Self-ratings are typically weakly correlated with other rater perspectives with greater convergence between peer and supervisor ratings4. These diverse perspectives amount to different perspectives held for the leader by the different rater groups.

It seems intuitive to expect that some differences in perspectives will occur across rater groups. Here is what we believe are the filters used by different rater groups when they provide others with feedback (e.g., performance appraisals, 360-degree feedback evaluations, etc.):

  • Managers: Managers use three different filters when evaluating talent. The first is “bottom line results.” The more you get done, the higher your “stock’ goes in the eyes of your boss. The second filter is “technical competence” and if you were hired you don;t have to play a political game to demonstrate this on the job. If you were inherited, you play a “dance” for awhile until you boss confirms you know what you are doing. The final filter is the burr in the saddle effect. Simply, the more you become a pain in the ass for your boss, the more likely he or she has to take time out of their busy day to investigate the situation, invest in client recovery and wonder if you have the “right stuff” all along to perform. Taken together, these three filters suggest a task orientation when bosses are asked to critique and evaluate talent.
  • Direct Reports: Direct reports are aware if you are knowledgeable, easily observe if you get work done on time and with quality and if accomplish what you set out to do. They simply don’t get paid to care about these things! What direct reports want more than anything is to have their ideas championed upward and outward, to have their ideas and suggestions included in problem solving, decision making and planning processes, to have a boss take interest in their careers and at the end of the day to be someone who is easy to interact with. Taken together, this filter by direct reports is relationship orientation and one reason that direct reports are pretty good predictors of derailment due to lack of interpersonal and social competence (EI).
  • Peers: Peers have less opportunity, in most cases, to observe leaders and other talent directly. They use sampling of behavior to judge and evaluate such qualities such as trustworthiness, presence, poise, integrity and impact. Peers seem to uniquely be able to assess followership making them able to predict future leadership effectiveness.

However, these meaningful rater group differences might also be a point of confusion in the interpretation of their data for leaders trying to use the results to determine specific behaviors to modify and which stakeholder to target. This possible ambiguity in understanding and interpreting multi-rater feedback is important in light of recent research suggesting that people who are even mildly neurotic report more distress by uncertainly within oral and written feedback than given even direct negative feedback5.

At a practical level, it means that leaders might be challenged to understand how to interpret observed differences by rater groups and whether to decide to focus their developmental “energy” on managing upward, downward and/or laterally in light of these potentially discrepant results.

Understanding how others view your behavior and the context that they use to perceive your impact gives you clues about your reputation (i.e., how others experience your personality, style and impact) which is different from your identity (i.e., how you see yourself).

So, how do others see you? What does this tell you about their filters for judging and evaluating your style, behavior and performance?

It’s worth thinking both about your own supporters and critics and just how they perceive you if you want to be successful whether you are an external coach or consultant or work internally within an organization….Be well…..

  1. Judd, C. et al., (2005). Fundamental dimensions of social judgment: Understanding the relations between judgments of competence and warmth. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 89(6), Dec 2005, 899-913 []
  2. Nowack, K. & Mashihi, S. (2012). Evidence Based Answers to 15 Questions about Leveraging 360-Degree Feedback.  Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol. 64, No. 3, 157–182 []
  3. Nowack, K. (2009). Leveraging Multirater Feedback to Facilitate Successful Behavioral Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 61, 280-297 []
  4. Nowack, K. (1992). Self-assessment and rater-assessment as a dimension of management development. Human Resources Development Quarterly 3, 141-155 []
  5. Hirsh, J.B. & Inzlicht, H. (2008). The devil you know: Neuroticism predicts neural response to uncertainty. Psychological Science, 19, 962-967 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development, Relate

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