In four experiments that placed MBA students in various hypothetical situations, the professors found that, when it comes to assessing the impact we have on others, most of us suffer from delusions of grandeur that lead us to withhold potentially valuable criticism. The flip side? We imagine ourselves less vulnerable to the real threats posed by others' talents and attributes. For example, in the first experiment, the students were placed in either a "self as threat" or "self as threatened" condition. The first group read a statement that asked them to reflect on people within their networks who were threatened by them and jealous of their skills and qualifications. The second group was instructed to contemplate the people within their networks who make them feel threatened and jealous. Later, both groups were asked to describe their strategies for dealing with each type of person. Those in the first group took pains to dumb themselves down so as not to devastate the people they imagined they threatened. Participants in the second group did the opposite, giving themselves more credit than they were due in order to deal with the perceived threats.
These coping strategies have a negative management impact, says Thompson. "If I dumb myself down, I'm likely to hold back, failing to offer insights that could help the team," she says. "To learn, we have to be able to confront each other." While our positive self delusions help keep depression at bay, Thompson says we need to give others more credit. "Spend some time thinking about how great other people are," she suggests. You might just spot a brilliant solution you overlooked.