Feedback, Gullibility and The Barnum Statements problem

Feedback, Gullibility and The Barnum Statements problem

A new colleague told me last week that the first time that we met I was a complete jerk. They obviously didn’t use the word ‘jerk’, but I sounded ‘jerkish’. It hurt . Aside from the obvious professional concerns some of the things they were describing were things I would hate to have associated with me as a human being. I went away crestfallen, regretful and with my head buzzing full of conflicting sentiments

  • It might have been a one off
  • What if everyone thinks like that?
  • What if not everyone thinks like that – but quite a few do?
  • How many is too many people thinking you are a jerk?
  • Would ‘too many’ be a percentage or a number?
  • What if it is a part of my character that I can’t change?
  • What parts are those?
  • Who do I trust enough to tell me if it is true?

I spent the entire week worrying about it. At times I was sitting down to meetings feeling uncomfortably unsure of myself.

When we talked again this week I asked them again about what I had done and how I had acted.They said that they had met me last year at an event – but when they named the event it turned out that I hadn’t even attended it. It turned out the were thinking about someone else entirely. Moving past the fact that it seems odd George Clooney was attending an HR conference (we often get confused) it shows how unreliable feedback can be.

I still feel like I’ve been a jerk because I’ve spent all week convinced that I had been. In fact I’ve got some things that I’ll do differently even though the feedback turned out to be false. In fact I now have a pretty good mental list of times that I might have acted like a jerk. Which is useful.

My experience of watching people respond to feedback through the years is that truthful feedback is less important to a successful outcome than their desire to respond to feedback. To put it another way – give a person who wants to improve suggestions of things that they can improve and they will. Give someone less committed the complete truth and they will rationalise it away.

Barnum Statements are descriptions that seem tailored for an individual, but actually are generic enough to apply to almost anyone. You could give a set of leaders the same feedback and tell them it was their 360 and they would believe it and act on it.

Try this as your feedback and see how you get on.

  • Sometimes it seems like you spend time on the wrong priorities
  • Occasionally I don’t think you appreciate your impact on others
  • It’s clear sometimes that you are more enthusiastic towards some projects than others
  • You have a tendency to be too critical of yourself
  • I think sometimes you push yourself too hard
  • You have potential to have an even better career
  • I sometimes think you aren’t as confident as you seem to come across
  • I’ve seen some really strong leadership from you and I’d like to see more
  • It seems you like a degree of change, but become less happy when you feel boxed in
  • I’m not sure we always see the real you at work
  • Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic
  • I really find we get on better when you are at your most relaxed
  • I think you are generally a really strong contributor and you know the areas you need to work on

Some examples are from me, some from the original study by Forer. I’m guessing some of the above rang true for most people. it’s worth noting that later research indicated you are more likely to believe this if

  1. you believe the results are specifically about you
  2. if there is a balance of positive and negative examples
  3. if you believe it is from a credible source

Think 360 feedback or the last psychometrics you took and the qualified person giving you feedback.

Feedback – the least important thing is the possibly the truth..

It’s your career – why do you want to leave?

I wrote this in response to the coverage of Massive Monday. The busiest day of the year for people starting to look for a new role. Except I’ve now delayed this blog – as there is a great blog from Mervyn Dinnen telling everyone to to calm down. So I did.

For whatever reason over the past few months I’ve been besieged by people wanting a catch up to talk about leaving their current role. It’s the best kind of besieging – it’s the kind that makes you feel trusted and worthwhile. I’m not complaining.

Here is what I’ve told most of them – and most have said it is helpful.

If you are asking the question ‘should I leave?’ it’s normally because you already know the answer. You already think you should leave, but if I say it too you’ll feel it is validated. You are more than probably about to tell me that you like the people you work with, but that the role leaves you ‘unfulfilled’ or your boss ‘just doesn’t get’ the way you work. The answer is the grass isn’t always greener, but unless you think the current situation will improve then it certainly makes sense to look elsewhere. Not storm into the a meeting with your boss and resign, but check out other options.

I’m going to level with you – I have no idea how good you are at your role. So I’m not going to agree with you when you say your talents are wasted or your boss is evil. But I do know that’s how you feel and that counts. Your happiness isn’t something I can reason out. If you are unhappy (or you think your boss is a muppet) I’m unlikely to change that over a coffee and you are unlikely to change it without changing role.I know you’ve worked so hard to build up a reputation with your current employer, but that is only of use to you if it can get you into a position you enjoy. Otherwise what you are telling me is just a distraction. This is about you, not how others perceive you.

And I know the people are great… Nearly everyone always says that when they leave. You’ll feel the same when you leave your next place. You’ll find people you thought you shared a deep relationship with were only colleagues and not friends. It is the way of the world. There are even more cool people just waiting to be met in the next place. You rarely lose great relationships, you add to them.

If you are worried about being able to afford to change jobs or that you’ll have to take a step down in seniority. It’s your choice, I’m not going to insist you drop your income. You came to me. It’s a tough economy and these are your gambles and choices. Everything has a risk. Your current risk is that you get up each morning for the foreseeable future and don’t enjoy a large chunk of your day. Only you can decide if that is a tolerable trade off for what you see on your payslip. I’d just challenge you to imagine a different future (a real one, not one where you just suddenly become Mark Zuckerberg) and make an informed choice.

If you aren’t qualified to do whatever it is you want to do then you have three options

stay put OR get qualified OR try and find a role without being qualified.

I can’t help with the first couple of options, the third is tricky, but it is possible.Why don’t you start researching that rather than worrying about that?

If you don’t know where to start then you start by accepting you are going to leave and then I guarantee that will unclutter your brain enough for you to be able to start planning for the future. You are currently overwhelming yourself with the enormity of choices you are trying to make – just break it into smaller steps.

  • Decide to leave
  • Decide what that means for you
  • Work out what you want to do
  • Work out what you have to do to get that
  • Start moving towards it.

Then you get to go into work each day knowing that you are making progress towards something better and I can tell you that everyone I speak to who ’emotionally resigns’ finds everything just that little bit more tolerable.

So you are telling me to leave? I’m telling you that you are asking that question for a reason and the person best placed to answer it…isn’t me

Thanks to Merv for the music choice too