Enjoying Your Work
Poor self-insight contributes to great reality TV
I am ready to make a confession. One of my guilty pleasures is watching "The Apprentice" on television. Various businesspeople, many of them with advanced degrees and good work experience, vie for the attentions of Donald Trump. Participants on the show break into teams and engage in various business tasks. Examples are designing a marketing plan for a new car, creating and selling a new brand of ice cream, and redesigning and renting apartments. Each week, one person performs worse than others and is fired.
I enjoy the show because the participants have to draw upon their knowledge of various managerial practices. These include planning, organizing teams, motivating workers, communicating with others, leading, maintaining group morale during stressful periods, and predicting the reactions of consumers to new products.
When selecting candidates for the show, I suspect that the producers choose people who are highly competent but whose personalities might clash with others. The producers know that scenes of people arguing and scheming against each other contribute to the probability of a successful program. Viewers would rather see interpersonal clashes and intrigue than see a group of highly cooperative people who show respect for each other.
There are two types of especially interesting candidates.
One group is populated by people with an edge to their personalities. These people have traits that irritate others. Examples are that they talk too much, have a snarl in their voice when addressing others, think that they are smarter than everybody else, or are overly bossy when they become team leaders.
The other group is composed of people who have very little self-insight. When they behave, they have no idea of how they are coming across to others. They have no ability to put themselves into the shoes of observers. They cannot examine their own behavior and predict its impact on other people.
These candidates are often among the first to get fired.
One woman had a very bossy personality but had no awareness of this fact. She told Donald Trump that she did not get along with other women because she was so beautiful.
On another episode, a man chewed tobacco but was unable to understand that this habit could have an impact when he was interacting with children who were test-marketing a game that his team designed.
When producers choose candidates who show little self-insight, they cannot predict the exact types of spats they will have. They can predict, though, that they will have interesting clashes with other candidates who are highly competitive and highly confident about their abilities.
A metaphor may be helpful: If people toss gasoline into a room and then throw a match, they can't predict the exact extent of the fire. They can predict, however, that some kind of fire will occur.
Self-insight is a valuable trait for managers. If they decide to behave in certain ways, they are skillful at predicting how others will react. They can answer questions such as the following.
"How do I come across to subordinates when I give them suggestions about their work? How would I feel if a boss gave me suggestions in the same way? Can I put myself in the shoes of my subordinates and predict their reactions to my directives given their level of job experience? Is there anything I can change about myself so that I can become a more effective manager and leader."
They can then take the answers to these self-directed questions and change their behavior so that they communicate more effectively with others.
Robert Burns once wrote about the value of increased self-insight: "O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us."
While the presence of such a gift is of value to managers and leaders, its absence contributes to colorful episodes on reality television programs.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org