Have you ever done something that you know didn’t live up to your personal values or standards? Duh, well yeah, of course!
If you have, how have you explained away the reasons?
What’s really interesting about humans is when we try to explain something unusual or negative about our behaviour. At that time, our default reasoning comes in, and we attribute our own behaviour to external factors or causes. We make excuses for ourselves. We identify what we did and come up with (to us) perfectly understandable reasons why we did it. For example, we say “The reason why I didn’t complete that project was because my boss is always putting pressure on me to get other things done”.
Interestingly, when we observe someone else’s actions, generally we attribute their behaviour to internal factors. For example, you say back, “But you had more than enough time to complete it…you just hadn’t planned it out effectively, did you?”
This is known as the actor-observer effect, first noticed by Asch in 1946. It reiterates why we apply double standards when we judge ourselves relative to others. When we rate our abilities to do something, we tend to rate our own ability to carry it out as ‘above-average’, whereas we may rate others’ ability at the same task as not as high as ours. Our brains are looking out for our psychological well-being, and gives us an ego-boost.
So when we actually don’t live up to that standard, or are unable to achieve the task, we come up with the external reasons and rationale that will mean we don’t have to accept so much personal responsibility, and we are able to justify what happened without downgrading our opinion of our own self-worth.
This proves why we most often see ourselves differently to how others see us. Hence our need to give and receive feedback on a regular basis. Feedback helps us to see ourselves differently and means we have a clearer picture of what others think. You’ll no doubt be able to explain away and ‘rational-lies’ what the other person’s real intent or purpose was in their feedback to you; resist the temptation to support your own feelings and excuses, seen from an external perspective, e.g “Well, I did that because…” and then highlighting the blame somewhere else, outside of your control.
Instead, recognise that the other’s feedback was from their own perspective, apportioning causation to what they see as your own shortcomings or attributes.
By doing it that way, you show how any feedback is gratefully received and has the impact that the other person desired. You can then approach it from the angle of them providing assistance rather than blame. And that’s when the learning point really hits home.
Head of Training
Originally published: 1 June, 2012
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