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Are you a pushover or too pushy at work?

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Are you a pushover or too pushy at work?

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It’s quite well known that we are often the worst judges of our own character, which is one of the prime reasons why social performance reviews are so very useful, as they give you the opportunity to collect feedback from a wide range of sources.

A new study from Columbia Business School highlights the difficulties we all face in providing an accurate self-assessment of our abilities and characters.  It looked at our perceived level of assertiveness, and how accurate those perceptions were, and found them to be not very whatsoever.

The research team conducted four studies to test whether there was any link between assertiveness and self-awareness.  Participants were asked to participate in a mock negotiation over various issues, at the end of which they were asked to complete a survey about both their own levels of assertiveness and that of their counterpart.  They were also asked to guess what their counterpart had graded them as.

“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness,” the researchers say. “In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right—that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard.”

The study found that we are generally pretty bad at self-awareness.  For instance, in one study 57% of participants thought they were assertive, or even too assertive, whereas their counterpart thought they were a pushover.  The same was equally true at the other end of the spectrum.

“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen,” the research concludes. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”

Another interesting finding to emerge from the study was that we nearly always believe we’re pushing too hard, even when we actually get assertiveness just right.  It just goes to show the importance of regular and truthful feedback in ensuring we have as accurate a picture about ourselves as possible.

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