The weird thing about seeing ourselves in the mirror is that what we see is the exact opposite of what everyone else sees. Your hair (if you have it, unlike me) is parted to the left in your mirror image but to others looking at you, it is parted to the right. This is one of the reasons when we first see a video of ourselves we might at first freak out a bit because that’s not the person who stares back at us everyday in the mirror. Something seems off–but what we’re seeing is the reality of our appearance versus what we believe.
So it is in workplaces. I conducted an interesting experiment recently. I asked employees to rate their workplace on a number of common measures dealing with communication, listening, sharing, respect, and dealing with conflict. As you might expect, a majority of employees gave less than passing grades to those measures as employees in many organizations are now prone to do. But I also asked the employees to self-rate their own behavior and actions related to the same measures. How well did they listen and share, try to resolve conflicts, and treat others fairly? What I got back shows that we have trouble connecting our own behaviors to the temperature of our workplace climate. To appreciate just how much we play a direct role in shaping the comfort of our nest.
The results I especially focused on was how employees self-rated themselves as doing a “very good” job on the workplace measures. What I got back was some cold honesty and a cognitive disconnect. Employees agreed that workplace conflicts could be better handled and that employees must be listened to more often. They expressed a desire for management to take action on these ills. And then they self-rated themselves with failing grades on doing a very good job of listening to others, sharing information, and trying to resolve conflict. What they were failing to see is that they were personally part of the problem–and that part of the solution required a little honesty and personal insight.
This all leads to the question of personal accountability in the workplace. There’s a great deal of attention being focused on organizational structures and systems and their role in creating sunny or stormy workplace climates. This is of course a legitimate line of inquiry. But I wonder if in our efforts to develop organizations we are letting slip the vital importance of not only self-awareness (which all manner of personality tests offer) but specifically how our true self is playing a major role in creating the climate we so harshly judge.