Communication Skills in a 360-degree Assessment: Why Underestimating your Abilities Hinders Your Performance

Communication skills are critical to professional success and should be clarified if underestimated


Garrett Mintz , 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.


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