Struggling to express why you’re great

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Self-evaluation is part-and-parcel of being an advisory professional.

Appraisals, mid-year reviews, promotion cases – all want us to provide examples of particular skills and behaviours.

That these processes often feel like a struggle can leave us feeling disheartened, and we sometimes come out of them questioning what it is that we’re actually good at.

This self-doubt is completely normal.

Here we will explain some of the reasons why we feel like this and why we should each commit to focusing on what it is that makes us come alive.

Deficit-oriented outlooks

Many of us have been brought up on the myth that to be recognised as talented, we’ve got to be good at everything.

After all, who would value a consultant that wasn’t ‘well-rounded’?

This deficit-oriented outlook forces us to shift the focus of our personal and career development plans towards identifying our perceived ‘weaknesses’ and upgrading them into strengths.

Whilst all roles have a core skill set which we must competently attain, being required to devote an inordinate amount of time to things we do not enjoy – things we will probably never enjoy – is damaging to us and damaging to our clients.

Instead we should reject this deficit-oriented outlook in favour of a client-focused perspective:

We should remind ourselves that what most clients want is a well-rounded advisory team – and such a team only has real value to them if each team member is inspired to bring their own unique brand of authentic passion and curiosity, by being given the freedom to follow their own strengths.

By looking at things from a client perspective, you will have a much more positive mindset when you engage in a process of self-evaluation, and you will start to feel less guilty when you do get the chance to invest significant energy in following what makes you come alive and doing what you’re good at.

The self-evaluation paradox

“The experience of easy retrieval trumps the amount of evidence on show.”

Norbert Schwarz, a renowned social psychologist, has dedicated much of his career to understanding how people behave when asked to self-report their own skills and strengths.

What Schwarz discovered was that the conclusions we reach about our own abilities are often paradoxical when the process of self-evaluation requires us to list examples.

In one experiment – discussed in Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – he established two separate groups of participants. All participants were asked to:

  • First, list a certain number of examples of them behaving assertively
  • Next, to evaluate how assertive they were.

The participants in one group were asked to list six examples, in the other group they were asked to list twelve.

Imagine you were in the second group. You’ve been asked for twelve examples, a number most people find difficult.

Would your view of your own assertiveness be different than if you’d been asked to list only six?

On the one hand, you’ve just retrieved an impressive number of cases in which you were assertive. On the other hand, while the first three or four probably came easily to you, you almost certainly struggled to come up with the last few to complete a set of twelve.

Whenever Schwarz ran this experiment, the outcome was the same: people who had just listed twelve examples rated themselves as less assertive than those who had listed only six.

Not only that, participants who were subsequently asked to give twelve examples of when they had not behaved assertively, ended up thinking of themselves as quite assertive!

So whenever you’re asked about your own skills or performance, remember that self-ratings are often dominated by the ease with which examples come to mind – the experience of easy retrieval trumps the amount of evidence on show.

That it might feel like a struggle to get across in a formal evaluation what you think you’re good at, shouldn’t therefore dishearten you. And if it makes you come alive, commit to doing more of it, regardless of how many examples you’ve managed to come up with.

Humble (but not hidden)

Openness, empathy and respect towards others are rightly the foundations of building rewarding relationships with colleagues.

But showing humility should not be misinterpreted as needing to be hidden.

Meekly tip-toeing around the office, hiding what you’re good at, will shackle your own potential as both a client-adviser and as a colleague.

In fact, you should proudly name and aim your talents and be confident in saying “This is what I bring to the team!”.

With such a mindset you’ll not only start to have a better relationship with self-evaluation, you’ll be more likely to keep doing what you’re great at, inspiring others to see that their talents are worth shouting about too.


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