When considering how your boss, co-workers, or other professional contacts behave, it’s likely you can quickly pick out “the jerk,” and “the pushover” in the crowd. But, have you ever stopped to think how your counterparts view you? Perhaps you assume you have a reputation as being “tough,” or maybe you like to play the part of “the nice guy,” but there’s evidence that shows you may be completely oblivious to the way other people actually see you.
A surprising new study titled, “Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Effectiveness,” shows that people fail to recognize whether they’re behaving too aggressively or too passively in the eyes of others. Unfortunately, this limited self-awareness can have serious consequences.
The research, which will be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, examined the behavior of students enrolled at Columbia Business School. Participants were paired for mock negotiations and after each deal was made, they answered questions about their own levels of assertiveness and their partner’s level of assertiveness. They were also asked to judge how their partner likely perceived them.
The results revealed that 57% of people who were deemed to be under-assertive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive, or even over-assertive. Meanwhile, 56% of people who were seen as over-assertive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive or even under-assertive.
Over half the time, people were wrong about how others perceived them. Interestingly, people who were viewed by others as being appropriately assertive often thought they were coming across as being too aggressive.
The Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness
Being oblivious to how others perceive us can certainly have negative consequences. The study found that people’s limited self-awareness interfered with their negotiating skills. People who thought they had “crossed the line” into being too pushy often tried to repair the relationship. As a result, they eventually accepted less lucrative deals. They were unaware that they didn’t need to fix the relationship “problem” because the other person didn’t even recognize that a problem existed in the first place.
Studies like this emphasize that it doesn’t matter how you meant the message, it matters how others receive it. In many business interactions, it ultimately doesn’t matter if you think you are assertive – instead, it matters whether or not other people perceive you as behaving in an appropriately assertive manner.
A lack of self-awareness can interfere with your ability to reach your goals in a multitude of ways. If you think you’re offering great sales pitches, excellent customer service, and friendly-employee policies, you may be surprised to discover that the people on the receiving end may disagree with how you come across.
If people perceive you as a jerk, they’re likely going to be less interested in conducting fair business deals with you. But, if you’re perceived as a pushover, they’re more likely to take advantage of you.
Increasing your self-awareness takes hard work. The key is a willingness to evaluate outcomes and a desire to examine how your attitude and behavior influence other people. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from other people. Often, what you discover about how others perceive you can teach you valuable life lessons if you’re open to learning.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.