Know thyself. Then what?

It’s that time of year again when people begin complaining about how difficult it is for them to write self-appraisals.  I wrote some about this subject last year around this time, and it’s since been consistently the most-visited page on my blog.  Obviously people feel ill-prepared to write appraisals of their own performance.  What I keep hearing from people is that they are uncomfortable making note of their strengths.

The first question I ask is the most obvious.  Do you know what your strengths are?  If not, you have a bigger problem than your self-appraisal to deal with.

Your successes generally come from doing one of two things: finding circumstances that match your strengths, or adapting  yourself to match your circumstances.  But without knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you are relying on blind luck to achieve either.

(You may want to read up more on this subject: if so, I recommend understanding the concept of the Johari Window and perhaps looking at some of Marcus Buckingham‘s writing)

Most people realize, then, that self-knowledge is important.  But sharing that is more challenging.

Some people are simply unused to making rational assessments of personality traits and talents.  They become emotionally invested in those traits and have trouble disconnecting. I have little advice here except that practice makes perfect. If you are uncomfortable describing yourself in this way, try starting with others.  Write up a “self-appraisal” of your manager, of a peer, or of someone whose work ethic you admire.  For added challenge, write one for someone whose work ethic you find fault with — look for overlooked strengths.  Just the act of disconnecting emotionally from these personality traits will make writing your own appraisal easier.

More common, I think, is a sense of humility, a desire not to self-promote.  Many of us grew up being told it was unseemly to broadcast your own accomplishments.  If you take just one thing from this post, take this: you are not bragging when you describe your strengths.  You are not saying “I am an excellent coder because I am awesome and I worked so hard and I deserve lots of money.”  You are saying “I am an excellent coder.”  Your manager may not know you are an excellent coder until you tell him or her.  You are not taking credit for your strengths.  Maybe you just won the genetic lottery and happened to have a great mentor.  Your manager doesn’t care why you possess certain strengths.  But it’s crucial that your manager know that you do.

You want to be humble?  Recognize that your unique strengths are probably not so outstanding that everyone’s already aware of them.  In other words, it’s presumptuous to assume everyone knows what you’re good at.

Not only that, but true humility comes with making the rational assessment of your traits and then being able to discuss it with someone else.  You want a lesson in humility?  Sit down with your manager and discuss why he or she thinks you aren’t that good of a coder, even though you think you are.

For some people, then, maybe it’s fear, not humility, keeping them from having that conversation.

That is much harder to break through, unfortunately.


#1 Michelle on 01.05.10 at 7:27 am

I think you’re right, I can easily identify the areas of opportunity (let’s be real, weaknesses) but find it difficult to write about my strengths. One strategy I’ve learned to use measurement to describe the outcomes of my work instead of ‘bragging.’ So, for example, instead of saying “I managed a multi-functional project” which is descriptive, I say “Our multi-functional team achieved x results within the required timeframe.” Or something like that.

I try to take it away from the personal and into the measurable result. Make sense?

#2 Amnon on 01.05.10 at 11:40 am

I can attest for myself that I dislike the self eval process because I don’t feel it makes me a better employee or enhances my performance (especially after doing it 10 times).

In addition the appraisal it is at least mentally tied to the pay raise (though raise has been on hold multiple times) so most employee are in a position where the appraisal is one toll used to assess their potential pay increase.