Struggling to express why you’re great

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

Performance reviews, promotion cases, job applications – all want us to provide examples of particular skills and behaviours.

That these processes are sometimes a struggle can leave us feeling disheartened; so much so that we can come out of them questioning what it is we’re actually good at.

Here we explain some of the most important reasons for us feeling this way when we need to evaluate our own skills, and what we can do to regain our self-confidence and feelings of self-worth:

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’?

Burdened with such an outlook, we’re forced to shift the focus of our personal and career development plans towards identifying our perceived ‘weaknesses’ and upgrading them into strengths.

While all roles clearly have a core skill set which we must competently attain, being required to correct so-called deficiencies in the pursuit of well-rounded status most likely means devoting an inordinate amount of time to things we do not enjoy, and probably never will.

Such an outlook is damaging to us and damaging to our clients.

What most clients want is a well-rounded advisory team, where each team member is inspired to bring their own authentic passion and curiosity, by being given the freedom to follow their own strengths.

So when faced with an invitation to highlight your personal weaknesses, reject this in favour of answering ‘How can I be better at giving the best of myself to my clients as part of a diverse and dynamic team of advisers?’

For instance, if technical writing isn’t something you’ve ever enjoyed, then a deficit-oriented objective to ‘Undertake more technical writing assignments’ could be replaced with ‘Drive an initiative to collect and collate a bank of technical report templates for use as precedents.’

Similarly, ‘Increase the number of cold call leads I generate’ could be substituted with ‘Develop my relationships with our Business Development and Marketing departments to better leverage their contacts and skills.’

Seeing things from a client perspective in this way will help you to stay focused on what it is you’re good at and what you enjoy, ensuring you contribute the best of yourself to your clients and your client teams.

“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.

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.

Therefore, when working your way through a self-rating process, be sure to take a step back and ask yourself ‘Does the picture this process is painting of me feel right? Is this really me?’

If what you see are a host of process-driven conclusions that mis-represent you on an intuitive level, don’t be disheartened:

Engage with the process as required and consider its face-value conclusions with an open mind, but ensure that any follow-up discussions around development actions and career goals fully reflect what it is that makes you come alive, regardless of how many examples you’ve managed to come up with.

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

But embracing humility as one of your core personal values shouldn’t be misinterpreted as needing to keep quiet about what it is you know you’re good at.

Indeed, playing down your talents will shackle your own potential as both a client-adviser and as a colleague, and will limit the extent to which you’re able to enjoy a happy and fulfilling career.

During self-evaluation processes you should proudly name and aim your talents and be confident in saying “This is what I can bring. This is me.”

Over time, this will help you nurture your own self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

And 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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