In the workplace, it can be tough to find that middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover.
But you figure you do a pretty good job, right? Just the right amount of assertiveness so that you’re not a jerk or a wimp?
You may want to reconsider your belief as a new study shows that the majority of us are off base when it comes to judging how others view us. In the study, Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and doctoral student Abbie Wazlawek, found that:
- 57% of those seen as not assertive enough believe they show just the right amount of feistiness – or maybe even too much.
- 56% of those believed to be too bold by others thought they had just the right amount of can-do attitude or might even lack some.
“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen,” said Ames. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”
If you want to ensure that you’re not coming across as too abrasive or a cream puff, then that means you’ve got to be more aware of how others see you. In a recent interview with Anita Bruzzese, Ames discusses the findings and provides some insight into how to make attitude adjustments to save your career.
AB: Did the findings about how people are clueless about how others perceive them come as a surprise to you?
DA: We were surprised to find that people who were seen as getting it right often thought they were getting it wrong. A good share of negotiators seen by counterparts as appropriately assertive mistakenly thought they had crossed the line in their counterpart’s eyes, an effect we called the “line crossing illusion.” In our studies, some 30 to 40% of negotiators seen as appropriately assertive showed this illusion, double or triple the rate of people making the opposite error (coming across as appropriately assertive but mistakenly thinking they were seen as under-assertive).
AB: Can you explain more about the “line crossing illusion?”
DA: Our research tried to trace back the “line crossing illusion” to some of its causes. Why would so many people make this self-derogating error? There are probably several factors behind this, but one that we examined was something we called “strategic umbrage.”
This is when a negotiation counterpart puts on a little drama in reaction to a proposal we might make. They might let out an exaggerated gasp of horror, stagger backwards with their hand over their heart, or just respond with a look of anguish as if we had violated all norms of decency.
Sometimes that means our offer really is outrageous. But other times, that’s just a gambit, a game played because the other person wants us to pay them more or charge them less. We found that the more a negotiator shows strategic umbrage, the more likely their counterpart is to fall prey to the line-crossing illusion. It may be just a negotiation ploy to get a slightly better deal, but people on the receiving end of these displays sometimes take them as a referendum on their character.
AB: How would you suggest people gauge accurately how they’re seen by others? (read more here)
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