One of the reasons feedback from others about yourself, your attributes and your behaviour, is often so valuable is because we can find it difficult to clearly evaluate ourselves.
Recent research undertaken by Dr Simine Vazire, Associate Professor Department of Psychology at the University of Davis, California, shows that whilst people are good at judging their own levels of anxiety and sadness, mainly because they have such direct access to their internal feelings and emotions, they are the worst at evaluating their own levels of intelligence, attractiveness and creativity.
Dr Vazire explains further,
“I think that it’s important to really question the perception that we are our own best experts. Personality is not who you think you are, it’s who you are. Some people think by definition that we are the experts on our personality because we get to write the story, but personality is not the story — it’s the reality. So, you do get to write your own story about how you think you are, and what you tell people about yourself, but there still is reality out there and it’s the reality that other people will see regardless of what story you believe. We leave traces of our personality all around us – everything we touch we leave traces and a mark of our personality unintentionally.”
For the study, 165 people were given tests of personality, intelligence and of how they reacted to various social situations. The results showed that people were best at judging their own levels of anxiety, which Dr Vazire explained was natural.
“You probably know pretty well your anxiety level, whereas others might not be in the position to judge that because, after all, you can mask your inner feelings. Other people, however, are often better judging your overt behaviour.”
Where people had difficulties, though, was in judging desirable personality traits in themselves, such as attractiveness, intelligence and creativity:
“…there is so much at stake, meaning your life is going to be so much different if you are intelligent or not intelligent, attractive or not. Everybody wants to be seen as intelligent and attractive, but these desirable traits we’re not going to judge accurately in ourselves.”
Dr Vazire explained why these traits are so hard to judge in ourselves:
“We look in the mirror all the time, yet that’s not the same as looking at a photo of someone else. If we spent as much time looking at photos of others as we do ourselves we’d form a much more confident and clear impression of the other’s attractiveness than we would have of our own. Yet after looking in the mirror for five minutes we’re still left wondering, ‘Am I attractive or not?’ And still have no clue. And it’s not the case that we all assume that we’re beautiful, right?”
My take on this study is that it confirms what you would logically think to be true. We usually understand our own feelings and emotions better than others but equally they can better observe how our behaviour impacts on them and the other people around us. Therefore we need to dig deep inside to evaluate our own feelings and emotions but welcome the feedback of others on how we, and our personality, impacts on them. As a former Manager of mine explained, before he chastised me, “feedback is a gift”.