Mountains Out of Molehills or Molehills Out of Mountains?

In our coaching work we utilize the Birkman Method assessment of passions, strengths and motivations to build self-awareness and self-management – the two foundations of Emotional Intelligence. In addition, the Birkman offers us two key insights into our mindset and attitude that affects everything we do. 

 One of these is known as CHALLENGE and measures the fundamental view we have of our value and impact. Challenge is a significant personality area and is arguably the most important. If you could have only one score, this would be the one to pick. The Challenge score paints an intricate picture of how individuals see themselves, how they project themselves to the outside world and the internal conversations they have when no one is listening. Both high and low scores can be successful, but they will achieve success in very different ways.

 We’d like you to participate in a little experiment. Guess what percentage of the millions of people who've answered the Birkman Questionnaire said more socially positive things about themselves than they did about most people?  Think about it for a moment and make your guess before you read any further. Remember, you are to guess how many individuals said more socially desirable things about themselves than they did about most people.

 Made your guess? Then here's the answer:  A surprising 95% of the general population answer the Questionnaire by placing themselves in a more socially desirable light than other people. Furthermore, this figure is true across all cultures. The tendency to view ourselves in a "better" light than others seems to be part of the human personality. Only one in 20 people don't look at things in this way. Only one in 20 people describe themselves as "having it less together" than other people. What's going on here? It's the effects of what we call social desirability -- the tendency of people, when questioned, to place themselves in a rather more favorable light than other people.

 Let’s divide the world into what we will call High Challenge and Low Challenge people.

Having a High Challenge profile is no better (or worse) than having any other kind of Challenge score. However, High Challenge people judge themselves by high standards, sometimes even harsh standards. So, they tend to set themselves demanding goals and even may set impossible goals. Further, if they achieve these goals, they can undervalue the achievement – if the goal was that easy, (they tell themselves) it must have been too easy.

 As managers they can also be demanding of others – "after all," they tell themselves, "if I could do that, surely this person can as well." As a result, they can be contemptuous of what they call "spin.” When things go wrong, they blame themselves first, others only as an afterthought. They tend to be drawn to professions that deal with physical reality – engineers, hands-on people, or with analysis – researchers, thinkers.

Now let's look at the other end of the scale. The focus of Low Challenge people is their own success, but also the success of others for whom they may be responsible. So, they tend to set goals that are achievable. This is not to say that those tasks may not be challenging; but Low Challenge people need to feel that there is a fair prospect of success. They judge themselves by more flexible standards than High Challenge people, and they tend to be less demanding of others because they "know" that other people are not as able as they themselves are. Low Challenge people like to be involved with the way that things appear.

 They "know" that what matters is what people think is the case, rather than what actually is the case. As a result, they are drawn to sales positions, or PR jobs, or the "image" side of marketing, where they are dealing with handling other people's expectations. This is not to imply for one moment that Low Challenge people misrepresent the facts (although you are probably starting to suspect – correctly – that very High Challenge people often do think that of the Low!). Low Challenge people tend to blame others or the world or the plan first, themselves only second, when things go wrong.

Every one of us is walking around with insecurities about whether we’re good enough, whether we measure up and whether people like us. Challenge measures how close to the skin we wear these insecurities. High Challenge people are more likely to voice these concerns and feelings, Low Challenge people are more likely to keep these insecurities hidden from the outside world.

If you're a manager and you have people working for you who have very high or very low scores, their behavior is likely to prove a sad mystery to you if you don't know how to identify and work with this fundamental behavioral insight. Contact us to learn how the Birkman Method can lead your team to success.