As Wharton’s top-rated professor for the past six years running, Dr. Adam Grant knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed. He’s one of the world’s 10 most influential management speakers, the best-selling author of Give & Take, Originals and Option B and a member of Fortune’s 40 under 40.
In a recent interview, Adam shared with The Science of Success’s Matt Bodnarthe most impactful secrets to success, starting with self-awareness. In the world of self-awareness there’s a lot of talk about recognizing one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Grant argues, however, that it’s more beneficial and reliable to trust those around you to identify these weaknesses and not rely on your own (biased) soul searching.
Why Is It So Difficult To Be Self-Aware?
According to Dr. Grant, there are two main challenges when it comes to developing self-awareness. First, there are your own blind spots. These are shortcomings that the people around us can easily see, but that we might have a hard time identifying ourselves. As humans, we’re typically better at focusing on how we think we look, versus how others most likely see us. Our blind spots only become visible to us when we solicit outside feedback. When we understand how others view us in the world, it’s easier to change our behaviors and expectations.
We also must face our internal personal bias. Biases include the negative aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to see. For many, it can be easy to see ourselves in our own personal spotlight, as the hero of our own journey, which can lead to overconfidence.
“I think the big lesson here is that any time a trait is easy for other people to see or hard for us to admit, we can’t trust our own judgment of it,” — Adam Grant on The Science of Success
How We Overcome These Challenges
The good news is that these hurdles to becoming more self aware can be overcome. Dr. Grant’s solution is developing two networks of people; a support network and a challenge network.
Build a support network filled with people that you can count on to bring you up when you’re down. These should be the people you trust, those that will always give compliments and increase your confidence.
Your challenge network should be the people who will tell you that you’re not quite where you need to be. These are the people that will push you because they care about helping you get better.
“So if in the last six months somebody has given you really harsh feedback, you’ve probably done everything in your power to drop them from your life. In the short run, that might feel good, it might help with your motivation, but it destroys your opportunity to learn. I think we all need to embrace that challenge network if we want to reach our potential,” — Adam Grant on The Science of Success
When Asked, Be A Graceful Challenger
Many believe the “compliment sandwich,” is a good way to give feedback. This is when you offer criticism in between two compliments in order to lessen the blow. People mistakenly think this is the best way to offer negative feedback, but Grant argues this method only makes it harder for the receiver.
So if you find yourself a part of someone else’s challenge network follow this framework instead. Affirm a skill, value or achievement from one area then give your negative feedback in another. The idea is that you never want to give praise and criticism at the same time for the same project, piece of work or idea. This only serves to delude your feedback all together.
If you want to soften the blow of hard feedback praise something unrelated the receiver has done and start the conversation out in a positive light. Then change the subject to the project at hand and deliver your unbiased feedback. After all, you’re in someone’s challenge network because they trust you to push them. Give them what they expect.
Embrace The Devil’s Advocate
In every situation, business meeting, discussion, etc., make sure there is one person who genuinely disagrees with the majority opinion. It’s important that this person is not just playing a role, but truly has different ideas than the rest of the group. This person should be given the opportunity to argue passionately about their viewpoint thus stimulating divergent thinking. If done properly, the group will be more likely to reevaluate the situation on the table, gather new information, update their criteria and make a better decision in the end.
Make it known that no employee or partner has the right to withhold a critical opinion. Dr. Grant emphasizes the importance of creating a space and culture where dissenting ideas are encouraged. Everyone at the office should feel comfortable speaking up for his or her opinion no matter how different it is from the boss or from the group.
“Personality traits don’t predict behavior. Different ifs activate different thens.” — Adam Grant on The Science of Success
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