Self-perception and Success in the Workplace: Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?

Laura Francis
Written by
Laura Francis

Why Self-image Matters

In a new Dove beauty products ad campaign called Real Beauty Sketches, we see normal women describing themselves to a sketch artist who cannot see them.  We hear them make some rather harsh and unflattering comments about themselves, from having round cheeks and a full face to crow’s feet and thin lips.  In this social experiment, these women then spent 20 minutes with a stranger, and then that stranger described the woman to the sketch artist.  The difference between how the women described themselves and how the strangers described them was astounding.  These women were so hard on themselves and very critical of features and flaws that the strangers did not see.  Their self-perception was skewed to say the least.

Self-perceptionThis made me start to wonder in what other areas we are overly critical of ourselves or where we don’t perceive ourselves as positively as others do.  I began to think about River and the fact that it is based on self-reported competency strengths, weaknesses, skill areas and interests.  I went into my own profile in our mentoring software to see how I had reported out my own areas of competency.  Was I too modest and critical?  Or had I given myself the recognition I deserved for areas of strength?

I’m a little sad to say that I may not have given myself the credit that I deserve.  I did not categorize myself as an expert in any of my competency areas, even though I have the skills, background and experience that would make me an expert.  Why is this?  Why do we do this to ourselves (men and women alike)?  Is it modesty?  Is it self-doubt?  Is it unrealistically high expectations that we’ve set for ourselves? Is it that we were raised to be humble and not gloat?

Whatever the reason, it makes me wonder if we are our own worst enemy.  If our self-perception is so blinded by negative beliefs, how can we hope to advance in our careers, or grow into new roles and responsibilities?  How can we make others see us as worthy if we constantly underestimate our own value?

Thankfully, River has a Kudos feature where my coworkers can give me positive recognition for the work I do and for the way I collaborate with them.  So after the self-flogging over my competencies, I looked at the Kudos people have given me to see how they view me.  Surprise, surprise.  Much like the strangers had a better view of the women in the Dove ad, my coworkers had some pretty nice things to say about the skills I possess and about me in general.  All these complimentary reminders of my own positive skills and attributes were all waiting for me in River’s Kudos section.  In the eyes of my peers, I’m viewed as organized, objective, creative, results driven, supportive, loyal, direct and knowledgeable.  Randy Emelo, our president and CEO, even gave me this comment: “I appreciate your get-it-done attitude.”  Wow.  That is powerful stuff! My colleagues see my value, and more importantly, value me.  It’s time I start to value myself a little more too.  And I hope I can inspire anyone reading this to do the same in their own lives.. Now I’m off to declare my expertise in some of these competency areas…and to go give some coworkers some much-deserved Kudos to remind them of their immense value, the same way they reminded me of mine.

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