How to See Yourselves as Others Do - 5 Practices to Up Your EQ

It usually comes as a shock that what we believe about ourselves doesn't match how others perceive us.

Recently, two clients asked me to conduct confidential 360 assessments of vice presidents at two different companies. The VPs' leaders were getting consistently negative feedback about the VPs. My 360's surfaced the negative impact their behavior was having on teams and colleagues. Control issues, siloed behavior, and an overbearing communication style were common themes.

VP-1 was shocked by my feedback. He rejected the input, blamed others, wasn't interested in changing his style, and insisted that his team was doing great work.

VP-2 was also surprised by my feedback, but she was open to digging into it. As a result, we worked to close the gap, adjusted her communication style, and successfully shifted the dynamics with her team and colleagues.

Our egos, fears, and hierarchical pressures to be the smartest person in the room can keep us from looking inward. It takes courage to own our habitual non-productive behaviors. The best antidote to blind self-delusion is a dose of curiosity about our communication patterns and their impact on others.

Here are five practices for becoming more aware of how others perceive our words and actions.

1. Intention vs. Impact

"What I say isn't what you hear."

A good starting point for increasing your self-awareness is acknowledging that there's a good chance that a gap exists between your intentions and your impact on others.

Practice checking in with others to close the gap. Ask sincere questions, making it safe for them to surface concerns or alternative opinions. "Is my position too aggressive? Is there something I am missing?" "What can I do differently?" With negative feedback, take time to journal, self-reflect, or talk it out with a colleague so you can make adjustments to your communication style. 

2. We humans aren't radio receivers—signal sent; signal received

"We don't hear what's said; we hear what makes it through the filters of our minds."

We humans aren't mechanical receptors like TVs and radios.

We adopt stories about the world from our culture, family, school, and experience, and live by those narratives from birth. As a result, we have strong opinions about what's good, beautiful, fair, and frightening.

Practice open inquiry to validate your filtered thoughts. "Here's what I heard. Is that what you intended?" "I'm concerned about how this will play out. Can you tell me more about your thinking?" Honest questions invite clarity and collaboration.

3. Pay attention to others

"Where you place our attention determines your experience."

In conversation, notice the focus of your attention. Generally, we're in our heads preparing a rebuttal to prove our point. But we can think and simultaneously pay attention to others.

Practice taking fifteen or twenty percent of your energy to be more attentive to others. Are they making eye contact with me? What's their body language broadcasting? Are their faces expressing agreement, confusion, or doubt? Mindfully observing others allows you to pick up cues and adjust the conversation.

4. Background of obviousness

"Made sense to me; how could they not get it?"

Our neural networks are constantly interpreting billions of bits of data to make sense of the world. This sense-making process saves us time and energy, but it's also self-sealing.

Therein lies the trap. The higher your position in an organization, the more information, context, and strategic knowledge you will have. Information obvious to you but inaccessible to others invites confusion.

Without information and a compelling story, others will create their own. Practice being more aware of information or context privileged to you. Share the context, news, and your thinking as much as possible. More information is better than less.

5. Ask for feedback

"Requesting feedback encourages productive dialogue and diminishes emotional misunderstandings."

Feedback conversations are often misused, abused, or avoided. We misuse them because we never learned how to do them well. We abuse them when we throw our authority around, and we avoid them when fearful of emotional reactions.

Demonstrating that you want feedback in real-time makes it safe for others to provide it and promotes mutual learning. Be specific and focus on what you could do differently tomorrow.

These practices demand much of us, but they can increase your self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and transform misguided conversations.

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