Receiving feedback about oneself

How well do we really know ourselves?

Research shows that in certain situations others might know us better than we know ourselves. A psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis has shown that we are not the know-it-alls that we think we are.

Research suggests that we are more accurate in assessing ourselves internally, such as our anxiety, while friends are better barometers of intellect-related traits, such as intelligence and creativity. Even strangers are equally adept as our friends and ourselves at spotting the extrovert in us all.

"Personality is not who you think you are, it's who you are. Some people think by definition that we are the experts on our personality because we get to write the story, but personality is not the story - it's the reality. So, you do get to write your own story about how you think you are, and what you tell people about yourself, but there still is reality out there, and, guess what? Other people are going to see the reality, regardless of what story you believe."

Personality, Vazire says, is pervasive in many things that we do - clothing choice, bedroom arrangement, Web site and Facebook profiles, for example. "Everything you touch you leave a mark of your personality," she says. "You leave traces unintentionally. You give off hints of your personality that you don't even see yourself."

Take attractiveness and your mirror. "We look in the mirror all the time, yet that's not the same as looking at a photo of someone else," Vazire says.

"If we spent as much time looking at photos of others as we do ourselves we'd form a much more confident and clear impression of the other's attractiveness than we would have of our own. Yet after looking in the mirror for five minutes, we're still left wondering, 'Am I attractive or not?' And still, have no clue. And it's not the case that we all assume that we're beautiful, right?"

Similarly, if you think that you are warm and friendly, and your friends and family say even if you think along those lines, you don't come across that way; you might pay more attention to your behaviours.

On average, the people who know you best know you as well as you know yourself, no better, no worse than you. More importantly, there are things that both you know that they don't know, and things that they know that you don't know, and those lead to very interesting experiences and disagreements. This is why we should always be open to feedback.

Points to consider when receiving feedback 


Feedback helps us get to know what others see but we’re missing from the whole picture. These are some points for your consideration when receiving feedback.

  • Ask for feedback on a regular basis, especially after you have identified development goals.
  • Receive feedback as a gift that provides you with honest information about your perceived behaviour/performance.
  • Be open to what you will hear. Let the person finish what he or she is saying. Try to paraphrase what you are being told, either back to the person or in your own mind. This helps you understand better what they’re saying.
  • Ask clarifying questions to double check that what you’re hearing is what the other person is trying to tell you. Thank the person for being helpful to you.
  • Take the time after the feedback to evaluate the information and consider specific actions for improvements. Teach yourself to recognize situations in which a certain behaviour needs to be altered. Feedback can help you self-monitor your behaviour at times when you are less than optimally effective.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t get defensive or explain your behaviour. (Use your energy on listening instead of defending your actions.)
  • Don’t interrupt the other person. Allow pauses and periods of silence when you receive feedback. This gives you time to understand what is being said and it gives the other person time to think about what they say. Don’t make excuses or try to explain your behaviour.

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