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Are you delusional?

January 13, 2015

Most people do not rate their skills or capabilities accurately. There are those who over-estimate (and therefore tend to blame others when things go wrong); and there are those who under-estimate (and therefore tend to blame themselves even when it is not their fault).

Last month, the Financial Times ran an interesting article on the impact of these tendencies in the workplace (‘Bloated and shrunken egos both prove bad for business’). It concluded that some level of misperception is normal; that over-estimating (at least among managers) is more prevalent; and that in general this is not a problem. However, understanding our tendency can be helpful – and people at the extremes can create problems for themselves and for their organization.

Those who over-estimate their ability often feel they have little to learn or to correct. Those who under-estimate are often very hard workers (compensating for their lack of self-belief), but they generally fail to take responsibility for their own development.

Experts in organizational behaviour attribute an increase in numbers over-estimating and attribute this to modern education, which tends to praise mediocre work in order to build self-esteem. The more people are encouraged to feel special, the more they develop a sense of entitlement and an exaggerated view of their skills.

It is interesting that in both cases (over-estimators and under-estimators), there tends to be a rejection of structured learning programs. Also, career success adds to the dilemma of the over-estimator, because the higher they go, they tend to be insulted from problems and bad news. They may also surround themselves with people who admire them and rarely challenge. Indeed, when challenged, the individual with inflated ego is likely to become defensive and may even exclude anyone with opposing views.

Any contracts or commercial manager needs to manage stakeholders. In order to do this, they need to understand the drivers for that stakeholder – and this analysis helps in how best to motivate and communicate with them. But a good commercial expert will also hold the mirror to themselves and challenge their own self-perceptions. Based on the skills assessments we undertake at IACCM, both categories are quickly recognizable. And we also regularly experience the resistance to learning that the experts associate with an inability to make an honest appraisal of our capabilities …. So where do you sit on the scale?

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