Updated: Jul 18, 2018
“I’m really bad at public speaking”; “I’m warning you, I’m going to be absolutely terrible”; “I just don’t think I can do this”; “Public speaking’s just not something I’m good at”; “I’m fine talking one on one but the minute I get up in front of a group my mind goes blank”………..these were some of the comments from some participants at a leadership program I recently facilitated.
Sound familiar? One of my roles is to observe each person as they deliver a two minute presentation to the rest of the program participants about who they are and why they are passionate about their industry. I identify where they did well and where they could raise the bar and share this feedback with them. As they were preparing the content, I went around and chatted to people individually about how they were going. Of the 15 participants, about seven quietly shared their fears with me and expressed a belief that public speaking was something that they were really bad at.
I braced myself to sit through a number of excruciating presentations and wondered how I would possibly identify some positive feedback to share.
And you know what? They were great! Sure there were some nerves and stumbles here and there but no disasters and some really terrific performances.
For some people just delivering the speech was enough to change their self-perception. For some others, who had some doubts about how they performed, the feedback of the rest of the group and myself enabled new self-knowledge to emerge – that they did have the capability to deliver a public presentation well and professionally. In fact, so buoyed in confidence by their positive experience were some of the most terrified participants, that they volunteered to present at an industry dinner that night.
So what was going on? In my experience people’s self-perception can be totally out of whack with how others see them.
Someone who is very competent, or even great, at something can massively underestimate their talent. They assume others operate at the same level so then think their own ability is nothing special. And I think we all know people who think they are more skilled than they actually are (this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect where the less competent people are, the more they overestimate their abilities).
If you're one of those people who has a tendency to underestimate your strengths then I'd encourage you to have a go at uncovering your personal blind spots.
Like the participants in my leadership workshop who were public speaking, it might be stretching yourself to do something that scares you and finding you actually enjoy it.
Tools like the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), DISC and Myers-Briggs can help increase self knowledge and awareness.
It might be actively seeking feedback about your strengths from people you respect and trust.
Being aware of your own inner dialogue and taking some time to uncover and check your limiting assumptions and beliefs can make a big difference to self-perception.
Although the focus of this blog has been on people underestimating their strengths, its also worth reflecting on what can happen when you overdo your strengths. Sometimes our most positive attributes can end up having a negative impact on ourselves and others. For example someone who has a great strength in assertiveness could overdo this and be perceived as bossy. Someone whose strength is flexibility could be seen as wishy washy or someone who is analytical could be seen as nit picky. What might be the impact on others if you overdo your key strengths?
I'd love to hear from you about the ways that you have tuned into your strengths and uncovered some of your blind spots.
What about you? I’d really encourage you to ask yourself the following questions, note your thoughts down and see what emerges for you.
Think about a time when you were doing something that brought out your best self, something you are really proud of. What were you doing? How did you feel? Who were you with? What skills did you use? How were you behaving? What were you not doing? What strengths were you using? You can do this reflection privately or tell your story to a trusted friend or colleague and ask them to give you feedback on the strengths they hear.
Identify some people in your life you respect and trust and ask them, "When are you at your best? When you are at your best, what do you do? How do you behave? How do they see you?"
Is there someone in your team or network who doesn't realise how great they are? Next time you notice them being terrific why not share with them the strengths you've noticed they have?