Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to searche for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accesible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitly useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilties so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.

“Liebster Award”: 11 Questions for Dr. Nico Rose

Liebster AwardThis is a little off-topic: I´ve been asked to fill in a questionnaire on myself as part of the initiative “Liebster Award” that is meant to draw attention and to promote interesting blogs. I was nominated by Petra Becker of International Art Bridge. Now I am to answer her 11 questions, then I get to nominate up to 11 bloggers with my own 11 questions. So here we go:

Why did you start a blog?

Because it´s the greatest things about the internet: you´re a nobody from somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Germany, you get the chance to broadcast your (or other people´s great) ideas, and suddenly, people start to read. Literally, all over the world – even if it´s just a couple of hundred people per day. That´s the best thing since sliced bread.

How much time do you spend on your blog?

A couple of hours per week.

What do you expect of other blogs?

Relevance.

What do you like most about your friends?

That they are and will remain my friends – even though I regularly tend to disappear from their lives for prolonged periods of time.

Who´s your favorite author?

Used to be Nick Hornby, currently, I basically read non-fiction only.

Who´s your favorite artist?

My almost three-year-old son.

Bild Mika

Who are your everyday heroes?

Currently, I do admire the social media editors who run the Facebook account of the German Federal Government. They´re doing a darn good job (considering the severity and complexity of their topics) and have to put up with a lot crazy sh.t in return.

What´s your earthly bliss?

The gorgeous Indian food at Restaurant Maharani in my hometown.

What´s your favorite pastime?

Cuddling with my son. And writing. And speaking. And then a some more cuddling…

How and where do you want to live?

I am very content with what I have here and now.

What´s your motto?

Before you go out to change the world, walk three times through your own house. (from China)

And my “Liebster Award” goes to…

Here are your 11 questions … auf Deutsch 🙂

  • Was ist aus Deiner Sicht Dein bisher bester Blog Post?
  • Dein bester Tipp für wirklich gute Blog Posts?
  • Welche 3 Bücher sollte man 2015 auf jeden Fall lesen?
  • Flugzeug oder Bahn?
  • Was wolltest Du werden, als Du 8 Jahre alt warst?
  • Wäre Dein jüngeres Ich heute stolz auf Dich?
  • Wem möchtest Du gerne mal in der Sauna begegnen?
  • Wem möchtest Du auf keinen Fall in der Sauna begegnen?
  • Wunschlos glücklich: ein erstrebenswerter Zustand – oder nicht?
  • Wenn ich ein Tier wäre, dann ein/e…
  • Was ist der Sinn vom Leben, dem Universum und dem ganzen Rest?

Expressing Appreciation made easy: The Gratitude Bucket

Gratitude BucketWant to say thank you to somebody and don´t know how? Do not fear, for Gratitude Bucket is with you! Gratitude Bucket was created by Zack Prager, a fellow MAPP alum. It´s an easy-to-use website that let´s you create a personal “gratitude space” for a specific person where you (and all the people you invite…) can openly express your gratitude and thereby share it with the world. E.g., this is a bucket for “Sensei” Esa Saarinen after he was injured with a knife earlier this year…

Why should you make another person happy by expressing gratitude? Because it´s one of the most accessible pathways to your own happiness!