“My friends and employees know me to be a humble guy,” explained my patient “John.” He was astonished to later learn that a number of these people described him as “pretty arrogant,” in a survey he commissioned as part of a behavioral assessment tool to improve performance at his company. He had a heart-to-heart with a good friend who more or less agreed with the survey’s findings. How could he have gotten it so wrong?
Most of us think we have a pretty good idea about how other people see us—how nice we are, how funny we are, how interesting we are, how attractive we are and so on. We assume that others see us as we see ourselves. Psychologists call this “egocentric bias”—when we are locked inside our own heads, we lose the ability to be objective.
To get a better view of yourself, you could hire a team to do 360 interviews as John did. Another less-expensive option is to think more abstractly. In a 2010 study, researchers split participants into two groups and asked them to judge how attractive they were to another person. One group was told to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. The other group was told to imagine how they would be rated by the other person in several months’ time. Those who tried to put themselves in the other person’s shoes did terribly—in fact, there was no association between how they thought others would rate them and how they actually did rate them. On the other hand, those who thought about their future selves did much better. Related research yielded similar findings in general evaluations, not just attractiveness.
If you want to get a better picture of yourself, think forward.