27 June 2009

Can you give me some Self-Esteem, please?

Earlier this week, a great question was posed on Twitter by @Lotay. He usually posts great questions that make you think. But, this question was a bit different for me, as I could not answer it in the 140 character limitation on Twitter, so I'll try to answer it here.

The question was "How do you work with people who have low self-esteem. Specifically people who seek constant praise and reassurance." The first thing that came to my mind was, "It's called SELF-esteem, so it should come from within, not have someone give it to you.". Then I pulled back and thought of the times I was down on myself and that some praise or acknowledgment from someone was able to put me back on track. In general, I am more apt to provide my own self-esteem than rely on others to provide it for me,I but see how it can come from outside yourself.

Before I can really answer this question though, I feel that we need to look into why the person has low self-esteem. Treat the cause, not just the symptoms. A person may have low self-esteem because (1) they were repeatedly told by someone that they could not do something, be someone or that they just weren't any good; (2) they had a series of events or failures that shaped their view that they can't do something or (3) they just never learned that they can succeed or that failure is not necessarily a bad thing.

The first one is the most difficult because it's embedded in them and usually requires either formal therapy with a professional therapist or informal therapy with a close trusted friend or significant other. The second is easier because you can analyze the events of failures. Take the personal aspect out of it and look at at objectively: why did it fail, what could have been done differently, what did you learn, have you used what you learned in a later success? The third is the easiest because you have a blank slate to work with. All three require work, so people are more apt to just give praise, boost the persons self esteem and move on. Then have to do it again and again.

Now back to the question. I feel that it is most important to not just give praise or encouragement and leave it at that. That's initially the easy way and will not do anything but make them come back to you for more. Sit them down and ask them how they felt it went (be it a project, task, etc.). Make them tell you. If they drift into negativity, stop them and say "OK, but tell me about what went well". Start with a positive and give praise for that, but make it start with them. Then talk about anything that did not go right. Be objective and do not criticize them personally. Make them tell you why something failed and keep them on track (no blame or negativity). Ask them if they knew then what they know now, how would they have done it differently. What have they learned.

Tell them you are looking forward not backward and that failure is not necessarily a negative. It can be a positive if you take something away from it and can apply to a future success.

I tend look to for the positives in things. My glass isn't half full, it has room for more (I credit my Grandmother for this view). I guess my bottom line is, you can't just 'deal' with people who require others to build up their self esteem, it will only lead to the need to keep doing it. Break that cycle.

I would be really interested to see what others have to say about it.


Juanita said...

I just tell them this is work and that is private life and I need you to perform. NO EXCUSES.. But later I will take them out to lunch/dinner and that can be personal time to talk. I am not uncaring, but when we are at work we have a job to do.
I had a supervisor that used to call everyone over to appraise all of her displays. I finally had to complain to her boss after she did not seem to understand that we could not stop our day to give her a pat on the back each time she did a project at work.
I later became her boss and broke her of that habit. I have my ways. But she became WAY more confident and successful at work and in her personal life. You have to build confidence while at the same time separating the therapy time form the actual work time.
People used to love me as a boss, but I think I am extremely demanding. Maybe I actually care about the person as well as the employee, that may help.?

AZ Mom of Many Hats said...

I think you hit it on the head...it is from within and other people can't make someone's self esteem better. It is something that takes personal resolve to overcome (believe me from personal experience when a person has low self esteem, they are well aware that they do, so the remedy lies from within). As far as working with someone with low s.e., I think there is only so much affirmation you can give (that is a bandaid on the person's internal issues). I think a way to handle it would be to separate the issue at hand from the person. Use neutral non personal language, ie. "the project" instead of "your work". Keep constructive feedback directed at the task rather than at the person unless and until it truly becomes a personal issue.

Eric Vonk said...

Thank you Juanita and AZ Mom for the comments. I was concerned that I came off a bit harsh, but am glad to see that others feel the same way. Your comments are excellent and add more food for thought for me. Thanks for checking this out, I really appreciate it.