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There is no denying that experience can lead to greater knowledge. However, the cautionary tale is to resist becoming overconfident after several years with a company or in a job or after achieving some success. To maintain self-awareness, we need to remain open to learning from past mistakes, new ideas from others, and different opinions.
Career success seems to create overconfidence, which lowers our self-awareness, arguably when we need it most. Several research studies back this cautionary tale.
One study found that more experienced managers inaccurately assessed their leadership effectiveness compared to less experienced managers.1
Another study compared the self-awareness of leaders at different levels or authority within an organization. Higher-level managers vastly overestimate their skills and abilities compared to lower-level managers. The higher-level managers overvalued their skills in 19 out of the 20 competencies measured, including self-awareness.2
Complete self-awareness includes both clearly understanding or knowing ourselves, which is internal self-awareness. And understanding how others view our actions or external self-awareness.
A key element to successful external self-awareness is feedback. Our actions or behaviors are not always interpreted as we intend, so we need others to tell us how we “show-up.”
Feedback, specifically the lack of fit, is the primary reason someone might become overconfident in their abilities as they gain experience and more responsibilities in the workplace.
Senior leaders naturally have fewer people who can provide candid feedback. And fewer people are willing to provide constructive feedback to individuals who can impact, especially negatively, their careers.
As we advance in our careers, especially to leadership positions, we need to seek feedback actively. Anonymous feedback is helpful and can be achieved by 360-degree reviews. But the most successful leaders identify people, or trusted advisors, who are willing to provide an honest critic of their behaviors, actions, and attitudes. Because trusted advisors have the leader’s best interest at heart, they offer guidance and suggestions that will raise the leader’s self-awareness, ensuring they perform at their best.
Even in senior leadership positions, trusted advisors can be found all around, peers, board members, direct reports, lower-level employees, managers if you have one, etc.
The most critical aspect of this process is a willingness to listen. Sometimes as individuals gain power, they become less willing to listen to others. Remaining open-minded and listening to feedback, and the diversity of ideas always leads to something greater than we can achieve on our own.
A willingness to seek out, listen to, and adjust based on feedback raises self-awareness and makes leaders more effective.
1.Cheri Ostroff, Leanne E. Atwater, and Barbara J. Fein- berg, “Understanding Self-Other Agreement: A Look at Rater and Ratee Characteristics, Context, and Out- comes,” Personnel Psychology 57, no. 2 (June 2004):
2. Fabio Sala, “Executive Blind Spots: Discrepancies Be- tween Self- and Other-Ratings,” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practices and Research 55, no. 4 (September 2003): 222–229.
Humans are complicated. But you know that. We all have a unique combination of energy levels, motivations, personal values, beliefs, fears, baggage, confidence levels, humility, empathy, and stressors thanks to our job and personal responsibilities. Those are a lot of human elements to try to navigate successfully.
The fact that most of us are working from home exclusively right now, without in-person, face-to-face discussions further complicates our ability to connect with and interpret our co-workers’ intentions and actions.
One antidote to this super-sized issue is active listening. The benefits of strong listening skills are vast, and it powers other critical soft skills, such as effective communication, strong collaboration, humility, problem-solving, and critical thinking. So, the benefits of active listening reach far beyond clearly understanding your teammates.
Today’s endless digital distractions and hyper-urgent work environments make it challenging to listen actively. The truth is, most of us have weak listening skills.
And, given most of our work interactions are either by phone or video while working from home, concentrating on what others are saying is more complicated than ever.
Active listening is more than hearing what is said, acknowledging someone is speaking by a physical cue, and then summarizing what they said. Active listening is a very involved process. It includes focusing on the complete message or all the facts the other person is communicating, withholding judgment until all the facts are presented, asking clarifying questions (respectfully), observing non-verbal cues, and more.
To clearly understand others, remain productive, produce high-quality work, and offset the additional anxiety we all feel due to COVID-19, amp up your active listening skills.
Below are the components of active listening.
To actively listen:
Remove distractions& do not multitask. Put away all digital devices, phones, computers, tablets, etc. (unless you are using them for a voice or video call) and look at the person speaking. When we look away from someone who is talking, it suggests, at a minimum, we are not interested in what the speaker is saying, and at worst, demonstrates disrespect.
Multitasking is an extreme distraction that takes our focus away from a speaker. Research shows that our brains cannot do two cognitive things simultaneously, so when we attempt to multitask, we miss vital points a speaker is making.
Let go of your thoughts.Humans speak at about 225 words per minute, but we listen to 500 words in this same amount of time. Our minds fill in this 275-word gap by recalling related stories, or other connections to what someone says. We often hold on to these stories or ideas so we can share them when a speaker finishes talking. To truly listen, we need to let these thoughts go and focus our minds back on the speaker.
The challenge here is to reframe from starting to form a response after just a few comments by the other person. Listening is not the same thing as waiting for your turn to talk. After only a few comments by others, we can start to draft what we want to say in our minds. This inactive listening process can cause us to miss important facts and non-verbal cues, which may lead us to respond inappropriately.
Keep an open mind, attempt to withhold judgment, and assume you will learn something from the other person. If you realize you are starting to judge what someone is saying, try to clear your thoughts and return to listening objectively. To fully understand someone, we need to withhold judgment, blame, and criticism. Instead of judging, try to understand what might be impacting the person’s opinion. Influences at work can include job responsibilities, individual goals and objectives, pending deadlines, and other stressors. We need to understand these influences to know how they impact someone else’s views. We can then either agree or respectfully share counter-information or ideas.
Therapist M. Scott Peck said,
“True listening requires a setting aside of oneself.”
Good listeners set aside their personal opinions during a conversation. And they appreciate everyone is an expert in something. So, they open their mind to learning something from that expert.
Look for nonverbal communication. Observe the body language and facial expressions of a speaker to gain greater insight into their opinions. This observation can be challenging on a video call, so an even sharper focus on a speaker is needed.
But also keep individual differences in mind. People from different countries and cultures tend to use different nonverbal communication gestures, so it’s important to take age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state into account when reading body language signals. A colleague from a different country, one who is older, or another that is preoccupied with a mistake they made, for example, are likely to use nonverbal cues differently.
Ask clarifying questions to gain a greater understanding.Ask open-ended questions starting with who, what, when, where,how, or why. And keep your questions short and simple. Try not to suggest an answer, but rather let the speaker fill-in the details. For example, instead of asking, “Is this information based on customer feedback?” which can solicit just a yes or no answer, ask, “How was the information gathered that helped to form your opinion?”
Asking a good question demonstrates to the speaker you are actively engaged, respect their views, and are interested in fully understanding what they are saying.
Build the speaker’s self-esteem.Make sure the exchange is a positive one for the speaker. Support them even if you need to share a difference of opinion and do so thoughtfully, in a non-argumentative way. Good conversations involve sharing counter-information and debating facts without making the other person defensive.
Be sure to stay in an inquiry tone of voice and avoid using words that sound accusatory. For example, instead of saying, “Your data analysis is wrong.” Ask, “How did you approach the data analysis?” or “What assumptions did you include in your data analysis?”
Good listeners may challenge a speaker, but they do it in a way that makes the speaker feel as though the listener is trying to help versus win an argument. And excellent communicators select their words carefully to avoid sounding harsh, dismissive, or accusatory.
In contrast, poor listeners are interested in pointing out errors, which can cause the speaker to feel devalued.
Make helpful suggestions. Good listeners also carefully choose their words when making suggestions to ensure they present them in a supportive, non-critical way. For example, they say things like “you might consider,” or “another approach might be.”
When you’re an engaged listener, not only will you better understand the other person, you will also make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a deeper connection between you.
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The 3-steps to gaining a healthy mindset about stress are:
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Stress. Freeing the burden of stress starts by admitting that issues exist, at least to yourself. Denial compounds stress and its negative impacts. But thankfully, acceptance is an eye-opening process that helps us see things, and possible solutions, more clearly.
Acknowledge your stress by thinking or saying “I am stressed about ” such as “I am stressed about being able to balance my work and personal responsibilities” “I am stressed about achieving my work goals” or “I am stressed about teaching my child positive personal values.”
Acknowledging stress kicks off a transfer process in our brains, where we pause the emotional reaction to a situation so that we can choose a more productive response. Acknowledgment moves our stress from the emotion area of our brains to the prefrontal cortex, where we do our conscious and deliberate thinking.
Step 2:Own Your Stress. Stress indicates we care and that deep down, we know that the things that matter most should not be easy. Own your stress by recognizing that the choices we make, especially when we challenge ourselves, come with stress, like running a business, taking a high-stakes job, raising children, etc. Owning the fact we put ourselves in stressful situations will not eliminate it, but these tense situations will be more tolerable thanks to a sense of motivation and meaning.
Step 3:Use Your Stress. Reframe your response to a situation from stress to something beneficial or even exciting. When we shift to a positive feeling of opportunity, not stress, we can think freely to define answers or solutions that will make the stressful situation better. Outline the steps necessary to put these solutions into action – and take them!
Once you develop a positive mindset about stress, you will start to recognize that some of your most significant learning and development opportunities were during some of your most stressful times.
With your new view on stress, use it to redirect any job-related stress to become invaluable at work.
One little known, albeit growing, fact is that job happiness, and therefore success, is powered by our soft skill expertise, not our technical skills.
Research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Career Center found that soft skills contribute 85% to job success and happiness, so technical skills only represent 15%.
Developing strong working relationships has proven to reduce stress and anxiety while powering more creative ideation, sounder problem-solving, and powerful critical thinking. These skills lead to more favorable outcomes, which boost our mental health and well-being.
Soft skills are about behavior and thinking, personality traits, and cognitive skills, including people skills (relationship building, collaboration, empathy, humility, etc.), social skills, communication skills, character, attitudes, and emotional intelligence.
Every day that you interact with other human beings at work requires well-developed soft skills and is an opportunity to enhance your capabilities.
Given the breadth and variety of soft skills, it can be hard to know where to start. But, when you think about how these human skills interrelate, you can classify them in a simple career success formula of:
We have further identified 6-foundational soft skills that power job success.
Foundational Soft Skills
Critical thinking is a mindset about thinking. It starts by being open-minded and objectively considering why we believe what we believe. Critical thinkers assume they might be wrong so to free their mind and explore new possibilities, which lead to innovative, creative ideas. Critical thinking is not about thinking more; it is about thinking better by not accepting data or information on face-value.
Problem-solving.Problems are a gap between the desired outcome and an actual outcome. Problem-solving capitalizes on the open-minded critical thinking mindset to analyze the cause & effect of problems successfully. The most common mistake when problem-solving is assuming the first source identified of the problem is the ultimate cause. Deeper thinking is typically needed to determine the actual root cause of a problem.
Humility is often misunderstood. Humility is a positive, honest opinion about oneself, so it is inner strength. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Humble individuals know their limits and accept their shortcomings without being defensive or having self-judgment. And because of this self-openness, they know what they can do and where they need help. Humility powers an ability to change our minds, and more importantly, recognizing when we should. It is a powerful skill successful individuals want to possess.
Empathy is the skill that helps us understand what makes others “tick.” Empathy starts with an understanding of someone’s personality, cultural norms, and social affiliations that drive their opinions and beliefs. It helps us to understand how someone is feeling, even if we disagree with why they feel a certain way. And it can power our ability to feel what someone else is feeling. But the pinnacle element of empathy is recognizing what others need from us and then fulfilling that need.
Communication.You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it. And the transmission is communication. ~ Warren Buffet. Effective communication is not just about talking. It integrates presenting data-supported opinions and ideas, active listening, and verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Effective communication requires time to prepare an effective approach, is more about listening than talking, and includes a setting aside of oneself to build others’ self-esteem.
Collaborationis how work gets done today, or uber-teamwork. No one is successful on their own in today’s knowledge work environment. Effective collaborators know how to influence others (thanks to strong empathy) and graciously asks for and accept help when needed (humility), which leads to individual and team success.
Harness the Positive Power of Stress
The next time you feel anxious stop and ask yourself:
Am I experiencing stress? If yes, acknowledge it.
What is the source of this stress? Identify what choices you have made, and therefore care about, that is creating this stress.
Reframe any negative feelings from stress to a benefit or exciting opportunity. Consider the source of the stress, why you care about it, and start developing opportunities the current situation offers.
Then enjoy the benefits of redirecting the energy of stress to positive action on your mental and physical health and well-being. This redirecting approach will lead to personal and professional growth and development.
Curious about your knowledge of these 6-foundational soft skills? Quiz yourself.
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Humility is a powerful virtue, which has become misunderstood. Humility is a noun and is defined as a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance.
As a society, we seem to over-index on the “modest opinion” portion of the definition, which has led to the belief that humility is insecurity about our abilities. In reality, the key part of the definition is “one’s own importance.” When we shift our attention to this part of the definition, we understand humility to mean:
To be no more important than others and no less important than others.
Simply put, humility is about mutual respect, for ourselves and others.
Humility enables us to tame our ego.
Humility is one of the most important and necessary factors to job and career success because it empowers us to change our minds, and more importantly, knowing when we should. This cognitive process is known as intellectual humility.
Intellectual humility powers far-reaching benefits, including in-depth thinking, higher-quality problem-solving and decision making, and creative, innovative ideation.
Intellectual humility is a mindset that frees our thinking because it removes the burden of needing to be right. Intellectually humble individuals are curious and want to get all of the facts on a topic, to come to a well-informed opinion or decision.
In more psychological terms, intellectual humility is a non-threatening awareness of our intellectual weakness or shortcomings. It is the ability to recognize we could be wrong.
Intellectual humility guides the way we think or consider facts, information, and the opinions of others. It is an open-minded approach, powered by a desire to learn. Intellectually humble individuals see life as school, and they welcome new ideas, advice, and feedback on how to improve.
It enables us to objectively evaluate information, which may differ from our current opinions or views, and avoid forming incorrect beliefs that are not supported by facts. Intellectual humble individuals do not dismiss an idea base on who is presenting the information. They think deeper, with a desire to understand the facts.
In 2016 Pepperdine University professors, Drs. Liz Mancuso and Stephen Rouse identified 4-interrelated components of intellectual humility:
Respecting other viewpoints: Being open to ideas that are counter to our own and actively trying to understand those ideas or perspectives.
Not being intellectually overconfident: Recognizing that although we are smart, we may not always be right.
Separating ego (self-worth) from intellect: Attempting to separate our ideas from our identity so that we do not feel personally attacked or disrespected when someone disagrees with our perspectives. Separating our intelligence from our ego helps to open our thinking to consider the points of view, opinions, and ideas of others.
Willing to revise or change our opinions: Actively considers new facts and how they might change our opinions as we learn.
It is possible to possess some of these components and not others. But complete intellectual humility includes a high degree of each.
Humility can be one of the hardest traits to develop because it starts from a recognition that we are not always right, which is especially hard in a world where being right is rewarded.
As C.S. Lewis said, humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking about yourself less.
To learn more about humility and other career success skills, subscribe to the Brize Newsletter.