Self-perception versus External-perception

I am sure you have a very clear idea of which are your personal qualities and faults as well as your professional strengths and weaknesses. If I asked you, you could quickly write up a list of both.

But are you sure that those who are around you think of you the same way?

There are several studies that reveal the discrepancy between self-perception (how we think we behave or what we think we are good at) and external-perception (how others perceive our actions).1 If that discrepancy is significant it can generate considerable problems in team work.

That is why providing a feedback platform for the teams is so important.

Usual feedback platforms

Personality tests are used to build teams and find out this sort of things. However it is important to highlight that this sort of tests are based on personal preferences and perspective.

That is why in many companies it is used the technique “feedback 360º”. In this case every one in the team will also evaluate the rest of their colleagues. Obviously for this method to be useful it is necessary that the team members know each other and have been working together for a while.2

These tests are a good framework to provide that feedback, but being honest they are quite boring – especially if you are part of a big team – and the feedback is limited to a few questions which might not be relevant for a specific situation.

Well, open feedback dialogue is another option – always done through an intermediary who has not been involved in the team experience to avoid unnecessary tension and keep the positive tone of the dialogue.3 But its main problem is that criticism is seen as a bad thing. We are scared of getting feedback, just in case it does not match our assumptions. But “questioning should not be understood as a sign of mistrust or invasion of privacy, but as a valuable opportunity for learning”.4 It definitely is necessary to improve the understanding and the effectiveness of the team dynamics.

Joining Feedback and Design Techniques

So, as tests are boring and limited and open feedback is scary, we created a new way of doing it.

How we do it?

– Using a design workshop format, making it visual and fun.

– Using basic design tools as story-telling

– Creating visual tools with open questions

Around the same table, every body works individually on the tools we give them.

Feedback is written instead of spoken, so it is less threatening. People feel more comfortable to express their opinions as it is proposed as a sort of game.

Open questions enable the team members to provide and receive feedback on the topics they find important. Working this way information becomes much more insightful.

At the end the tools and stories are shared within the group. It is then a good opportunity to establish an open dialogue as with the “games” the feedback pressure is gone.

Why self-perception and external-perception don’t match

One of the most interesting findings I got from the research is the uniformity in the external-perception. Independently of the differences with the self-perception, everybody gives similar feedback about the rest of the team members. This confirms external-perception as a solid judgment of the team members’ personality and behaviour.  However, in some cases the self-perception can differ enormously from the firm team’s opinion. I find three main reasons for that fact:

1.     Self-perception is just wrong

2.     Self-perception is based on previous experience which was not shared with the rest of the members

3.     The personal reasoning is not coming across, so people cannot understand what causes that behaviour.

So, does your self-perception match the way others see you?



1. Swann, B., 1987, Indentitly Negociation: Where Two Roads Meet, Personality and Dyadic Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1987, 53(6), pp. 1038-1048

2. Belbin Spain, Roles de Equipo Belbin, [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 24 July 2010]Souter, N., Breakthrough thinking, using creativity to solve problems. Lewis, UK: ILEX, 2007, pp. 136

3. Hicks, David., 2010. Discussion on team work, interdisciplinarity, collaboration and design. [interview] (Personal communication, 10 June 2010).

4. Argyris, C., 1991, Teaching Smart People how to learn. Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991, pp. 108


3 thoughts on “Self-perception versus External-perception

  1. Great insight! I just had a situation this week where the self-perception of my work was much different than my co-workers. I also believe it’s crucial to create meaningful feedback loops so you can increase your work productivity.

  2. Hi Deborah,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you bank on feedback :)

    You should try the story-telling at work. It is fun, easy and you can get very insightful info on how your co-workers see you-your work.
    We use scenarios based on decision-making, work under pressure, interaction… and they work really well. From the stories it is really easy to see if someone is perceived as lazy, dependant, with initiative, extroverted…

    Let me know how it goes if you decide to give it a try :)

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s