"communication skills"

Mon 25 January 2021
The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance. 

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Self-Aware - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Overestimating -  People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Understanding Underestimating your Abilities for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody has underestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a lower score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ score of them. At first glance, this may seem like a positive thing: “If my colleagues believe that I’m better than my self-assessed performance, then I must be doing pretty well!” This is partially true, but this article will shed light and provide examples of how underestimating your abilities can be an opportunity for improvement.

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include our 360-Degree Assessment (and its report) to each participant. We’ve found that our members use these insights to reveal the areas most in need of improvement. This has helped members identify the best course for professional growth and helps provide a major launching pad for helping them open up and be vulnerable in their mentor relationships.

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-degree assessment are People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

This article is one in a series of articles focused on why underestimating one's score on a 360-degree assessment report based on the 5 core areas listed in the paragraph above is not necessarily advantageous for one’s career.

Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively affects every interaction you have personally and professionally. When you make improvements to your communication skills, you are likely going to improve your skills in every other category measured by our 360-Degree Assessment. This is because when you underestimate your abilities with these skills, it is typically caused either by a lack of effective communication with your colleagues about what you are doing or by a lack of communication back about what your colleagues appreciate about your work. Communication is based on one’s ability to listen, trust that others are speaking openly and honestly with them, and understand what others are sharing before focusing on being understood.

If you gave yourself a lower score on your communication skills than your colleagues did, this could indicate a lack of trust, strong body cues for listening without retention, or a perceived lack of patience.

Lack of trust

The reason why underestimating your communication skills compared to your colleagues could indicate a lack of trust revolves around the question of trust: do you trust that others are speaking openly and honestly you? If you feel like others can’t be open and honest with you, but your colleagues feel that they can be, it is typically a sign that you don’t trust that you are getting the full information when you are speaking with your colleagues. The key is understanding why you might feel this way. Try to consider if you have a valid reason to not trust their honesty and you might just end up realizing that your assumptions are incorrect.
Strong listening body cues but a lack of retention

When it comes to non-verbal communication, some people have naturally great body language while others must work to ensure their body language fits the situation. As humans, the majority of what we perceive in the form of communication is via body language. We believe we are heard when we perceive the physical cues that the person is listening to. However, in some cases, people are great at giving physical cues that they are listening, whether or not they are paying attention at all. While naturally good body language is a gift, you might need to check that your internal response matches your external cues. By realizing when you are listening and when you aren’t, you can gain confidence in your communication abilities and know where you need improvements.

Perceived lack of patience

Some people are hyper-aware of their feelings and level of patience with other people. Some people feel that they are losing patience when communicating with their colleagues, but their colleagues aren’t perceiving it this way. Similar to having strong listening body cues, what others pick up from you is different than your perception of yourself. The difference is that when somebody feels like they are losing patience with somebody else, they are at least aware that they are losing patience – even if it isn’t perceived by the person somebody is speaking with.

A few solutions to help close the gap in one’s communication skills is to start practicing trusting your team. Try giving them responsibilities and information that you previously felt guarded about to start building trust. You can also deliberately practice reflective listening–meaning you mirror other people’s statements back to them and consider their words carefully before responding. Just by asking your team to share their concerns for their work and the upcoming hurdles they may face, you are growing mutual trust and practicing patience.

Counter-argument

The eternal counter-argument to this is “I just set the bar really high and I feel like I am not where I would like to be in this area.” If that is the case, then you are not effectively communicating your standards to those you work with. If your colleagues don’t know your standards, then they can’t properly assess your abilities in relation to those standards.  

Overall, the goal of a 360-degree assessment and report is to identify the gaps and blindspots one may have so then they can improve their performance. The goal is to be self-aware, thus enabling you to work towards excellence in each area. Underestimating your performance might feel good at first because it shows others think highly of you, but continually failing to meet your own expectations means that you risk burning out or losing engagement. So, try being honest with yourself and setting honest goals. Professional growth is a slow process that takes dedication, consistency, and honesty, but by following the path, we are all capable of becoming our best selves.

Sun 31 January 2021
A 360-degree assessment is a unique survey that uses input from self-assessment and from colleagues’ assessments to understand a professional’s strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. By gathering feedback from your colleagues alongside your own perspective on those same questions, we can get a deeper look at how your self-perception compares to the way your colleagues see you. 

With this data, we can break down the results of a 360-Degree Assessment into three outcomes: 

1) Somebody has underestimated their abilities (self-rating lower than colleagues’ ratings), 

2) Somebody has overestimated their abilities (self-rating higher than colleagues’), 
 or
 3) Somebody is self-aware about their abilities (self-rating matches colleagues’).

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who are self-aware of their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Overestimating - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management 

Understanding Self-Awareness for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody is self-aware about their abilities, this means that they gave themselves a similar score as the score their colleagues provided on the same skill. 

Initially, self-awareness may seem to be a cut-and-dry positive outcome but looking a bit deeper reveals some potential issues. After all, the goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and close the gaps between one’s self-perception and the perception of their colleagues. However, we find that there are opportunities for growth within a self-aware 360-degree assessment report and this article will review those opportunities.

At Ambition In Motion, our 360-Degree Assessment has 5 core components: 

a.                People Management
b.                Innovation
c.                Leadership Ability
d.                Communication Skills, and 
e.                Financial Management.

While self-awareness is likely the best outcome relative to the other two possibilities, I’m next going to explain how you can leverage self-awareness to grow as a professional and identify blind spots in your professional perspective. I’m going to show why self-awareness on your 360-Degree Assessment is more than just a pat on the back, even if you and your colleagues share similar views on your performance. 

Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively affects every interaction you have personally and professionally. When you make improvements to your communication skills, you are likely going to improve your skills in every other category measured by our 360-Degree Assessment. Communication is based on one’s ability to listen, trust that others are speaking openly and honestly with them, and understand what others are sharing before focusing on being understood.

If you are your colleagues are in agreement on your communication skills, that is excellent, but that could mean that they agree that you are a poor communicator or a great communicator.

Self-Awareness but poor performance

If your colleagues rated your communication skills relatively low and you agreed with them, that typically is an indicator that there are opportunities for growth.

You may think to yourself “I am in a pretty isolated role and communication isn’t a big part of my work.”

That may seem to be true, but that doesn’t mean that improving your communication skills will be wasteful.   

A key component of communication skills is the ability to listen to others. If others believe you are a poor listener and agree with your self-rating, this indicates that you are probably giving off negative physical cues that signal that you aren’t listening AND you aren’t actually listening to what they are saying.

This has negative consequences. If you are struggling to listen to what others are saying, it can be difficult to accomplish any work tasks because you have no idea if you are missing some key information. People can recognize a poor listener and they’ll dislike working with you because they feel like their time spent communicating with you is wasted.

The other key component to communication skills is trusting that others are being open and honest with you.

If you feel like others aren’t being open and honest with you, that is a HUGE red flag. This means that you should reflect onto yourself why you might feel that way about others. Do you feel like people are hiding things from you? Do you feel like people are skirting the truth because they only want to deliver you good news? Do you have any reason to believe that they are being dishonest or withholding the truth? Has something like this happened to you before in the past?

If your colleagues agree with you, ask yourself, why might this be? Are you giving the impression that others must give you the best news, even if that means stretching the truth? This might be a difficult pill to swallow but could this be a possibility? And if this is the case, what are the implications of this? This could mean getting blindsided, surprised, or feeling deceived. 

A great example of this is in HBO’s Silicon Valley. The show is about a group of people who found an up-and-coming startup business called Pied Piper. Pied Piper’s major antagonist is the CEO of a large conglomerate named Gavin Belson. Gavin is the type of leader who demands only good news, so much so that his people will lie to him to appease him, even if it makes him look like a fool later. A hilarious example of this rearing its ugly head is when Gavin is launching a new server called “the box”. Because Gavin is a narcissist, he requests that his signature be on every single box so his team creates a contest throughout the entire company to draft the best signature to go on the box. The signature that received the most votes was the signature “Gavin B”, which when displayed in the particular font used, looked like a phallus. The reason this scene is hilarious is because everyone on Gavin’s team can see exactly what it looks like, but Gavin is too self-centered to see anything but his name. Everyone is afraid to tell Gavin the truth, so Gavin moves forward shipping millions of boxes embossed with an ornate phallus prominently on the front.

The point is that if you feel like your team isn’t being open and honest with you and your team doesn’t feel like they can be open and honest with you either, you need to take action to create an environment and setting where others can be honest. This can start with asking for specific feedback on your work and the way you have communicated with others.

Self-Awareness and high performance

If you gave yourself a relatively high score and your colleagues agreed with you then that is excellent. That indicates that your colleagues feel comfortable being open and honest with you and they feel like you are a good listener and overall communicator. 

The question one should then consider is the balance between productivity and communication.

If you have an open-door policy or situation where anyone can ask you a question at any time, then you are making yourself available and are clearly making yourself present while having a conversation with those you work with, but are you optimally productive?

Research from Stanford shows that it is impossible to multitask and that mental residue builds up when switching between tasks. Therefore, if anyone can communicate with you at any time, the gaps in time from pausing your work and having a conversation before finally getting back on task are essentially wasted. This is also very true for emails/texts/phone calls/social media. If you focus too much on being available for everyone at every moment, you are sacrificing your ability to get into deep mental focus for the sake of being available to communicate. You are being communicative and present, but you are not being as productive as you possibly can be.

Some people have subsequently adopted office hours where they are open to people jumping in and asking them questions only during certain time periods, minimizing the gap time mental residue that is created from switching tasks. 

As new technology comes out, making it easier to communicate with those on our team, there can always be new ways to improve our communication and optimize our performance.

Overall, having a self-aware response on your 360-degree assessment report isn’t a free pass to give in to stagnation. It simply shows that you and your colleagues are on the same page. But, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. The implications from having a self-aware score are not wholly positive or wholly negative. Instead, it is a snapshot of your current performance which can help you make informed decisions about where you need improvement. As long as you possess an open-mindedness about making improvements and are willing to measure whether the new changes worked, you can ensure that you are on a positive track towards continual growth and improvement.

Thu 18 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively affects every interaction you have personally and professionally. When you make improvements to your communication skills, you are likely going to improve your skills in every other category measured by our 360-Degree Assessment. Communication is based on one’s ability to listen, trust that others are speaking openly and honestly with them, and understand what others are sharing before focusing on being understood.

If you overestimated your communication skills that means either you gave yourself a moderate score and your colleagues gave you a low score or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave you a moderate or low score.

You rated yourself moderately

There are many reasons you may have rated yourself moderately in your communication skills. It could be that you don’t believe you need strong communication skills to perform your role effectively, or it could be that you’re aware of your weakness here but haven’t found the time to focus on improving it. 

If you are of the mindset that your role doesn’t require you to have strong communication skills, you might be right, at least based on your limited view of what your role is. If you are a solo contributor, you may think “I only need to get my work done and that’s it.” These common refrains don’t tell you the whole story though. 

The issue with this mode of thinking is that it forces you to walk the tightrope of patience. When you are an individual contributor and you don’t feel like you need strong communication skills, you willingly turn yourself into a commodity; if your company can find somebody to do your work better for cheaper, the economic decision would be to fire you and hire them. The reason is that you aren’t bringing anything else to the table in terms of your contributions to the culture of the company because you have decided that you don’t need strong communication skills so subsequently your interactions with others at your company are likely to be minimal at best and a net negative at worst. Any mistake in your work becomes magnified because you have decided to not invest in your communication skills. Consider which sounds better for management: “Jon made that mistake, but he is a great guy and he pulls the team together” versus “Jon made a mistake and now I feel like he isn’t listening to me or communicating effectively with the team.” Everyone makes mistakes so which Jon would you want at your company?

Maybe you feel like you just don’t have the time to work on your communication skills. So, you gave yourself a moderate score because you “think” you are communicating fairly effectively at least. Well, let this report be the smoke signal informing you that, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. You are NOT communicating effectively and what you “think” is just getting by is not making the cut.

If that’s surprising or frustrating to read, try putting the shoe on the other foot.

Have you ever given instructions to somebody or been discussing some important work topic and they responded as if they weren’t listening to a word of what you said? Or they seem like they were listening but still end up acting in a way completely contradictory to what you said? Think about that frustration for a moment.

You know how frustrating it can be to feel ignored. If your team is giving you a low communication skills score, YOU are that person, or at least you are that person often enough for them to notice.

Have you ever felt like you had to sugarcoat the truth when talking with somebody? First off, that is usually a frustrating conversation. But even worse, it’s a recipe for eventual disaster, especially if they need to know the real truth of what you are trying to tell them. Based on your team’s feedback, you are the person they feel they need to sugar-coat the truth for. Your communication skills with your team keep them from feeling comfortable being open and honest with you. Instead, they don’t trust your reactions and worry that you might react poorly to bad news, but that isn’t going to make the bad news go away. When your team does not feel comfortable telling you the full truth, you may as well be flying blind.

When your team gives you a low communication skills score, they are telling you that you are an energy taker instead of an energy giver. People must exert significantly more energy communicating with you because they have to work double-time trying to find how to get their point across effectively. Instead of just getting to the point, they might need to repeat themselves. Or, since they feel that they can’t be fully honest with you, they are forced to plan out what to say so you can handle it. That type of working relationship is untenable. Poor communication skills are bad for business, bad for your team’s patience, and bad for your career stability.

You rated yourself highly

If you rate your communication skills highly and your team gave you a moderate or low score, that likely means that you are consciously trying to improve your communication skills, but it isn’t translating into reality.

People who rate their communication skills highly and then receive a lower score tend to be pretty surprised when they get their results. They may have done their “homework” and are familiar with many communication books or concepts and think they have tried ways to be better communicators. If you fall into this category, you probably are a little confused by these results.

Essentially, what this means is that the efforts you have taken to be a better communicator have not rung true for those you work with. 

For your ability to listen to others, do you ever hear what somebody says and then respond with a story or comment on something unrelated? We all do this from time to time. Maybe you felt that their point was likely over and you really needed to get that other story or comment out (what if you forgot it or the moment passed?!). What you may be neglecting is what your response is communicating to the other person. You didn’t realize that, although you heard what they said, they were expecting a relevant response to close out their comment; your completely irrelevant response about something completely irrelevant to that point makes them feel that what they said wasn’t heard. And when people pick up those signals, consciously or not, they begin to feel frustrated. By the way, I – Garrett Mintz the writer of this article – am VERY guilty of this and I try to work on improving this every day.

The other side of communications skills is fostering an environment where others feel comfortable communicating openly and honestly with you. Have you ever seen this type of thing happen with other people? If you are a fan of the television show, Game of Thrones, this type of poor listening reminds me of how people listen to Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger, when he is talking with them. If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, Littlefinger is a sly, fast-talking businessman who is constantly playing people off of each other. When he speaks with anyone, he always tells them what they want to hear and everyone thinks he is on their side…that is until he backstabs them and leaves them out to dry. I am not saying that the people you work with are Petyr Baelish, but I am saying that they feel like they can’t give you the whole truth, and eventually, that will rear its ugly head (e.g. turnover, upset clients/employees, missed deadlines, unmet expectations).

There are a few things you can do to improve your communication skills. First, from a listening skills perspective, you can focus on your body language. Your body communicates substantially more than what your words do, even if neither person consciously realizes it. If you feel like you are listening but others don’t think you are, your body is likely telling them another story with mixed signals. To improve your body language you can focus on standing (or sitting) up straight when speaking with others, making 80% eye contact, nodding when they make points, and taking notes (if relevant and appropriate). From a verbal perspective, you must practice actively listening when you are waiting until they are done talking before sharing your response (and don’t interrupt them either!). When you do respond, you can reiterate their perspective to confirm that you understand what they just said. E.g. “If I am hearing you correctly…”

Second, from an openness and honesty perspective, focus on asking for feedback. When people provide unsolicited feedback to others, the brainwaves that are activated by the person receiving the unsolicited feedback are similar to the brainwaves when listening to white noise/nonsense. However, when we frequently ask for specific feedback, we are inviting others to give honest feedback and you are mentally preparing yourself to actually reflect on it. They are much more likely to be conscientious when giving this feedback and compared to unsolicited feedback, it’s much more likely to be a productive critique rather than some trite complaint. 

The other thing you can do to encourage openness and honesty with your colleagues is to practice vulnerability exercises with them. In a 1-on-1 environment, ask them if they would be willing to be vulnerable with you, and you in turn be vulnerable with them. Think of the things that concern you with work and try to share these with them; they may share these exact same concerns! The benefit of doing this is that it sets the standard that it’s okay to deliver you potentially negative news on important topics because it was on your mind anyways. People tend to not give people the full truth for fear of upsetting them. By showing others that you are just as concerned, it makes it okay for them to deliver you the full truth of what is going on.

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 

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