When my college interpersonal communication class last met, we discussed the role of self-perception, in the communication process. Part of self-perception is self-esteem, which according to our class text is a person’s evaluation of his or her competence and personal worthiness.
Although you’ve probably never thought about how your self-esteem affects your communication, it plays a role in every relationship and most every daily interaction. Self-esteem is like a filter to communication; only messages that “fit” can pass through. If your self esteem is positive, you’ll likely allow positive messages in and send positive messages out. If it’s negative, only negative filters through.
Let’s look at two recipients’ who receive a compliment. Sue has positive self-esteem. She receives a compliment from her boss about the great job she did on her most recent project. Sue thinks, “She’s right, I did,” and will likely respond positively, “Thank you! I worked hard on it and I’m glad it met your needs.”
On the other hand, when Dana receives the same compliment, her poor self esteem filters it, and she thinks, “She’s only saying that to make me feel better, I know it wasn’t as good as Sue’s work.” She is likely to reply, “Oh, well, I don’t know, I probably could have done a better job. Sue was the one whose project really turned out well.”
No matter what positive feedback Dana receives, it doesn’t “fit” with her self esteem- she can’t let it in, so she either distorts it, as in her thought that her boss just felt sorry for her, or rejects it, as in her response to her boss.
Poor self-esteem like Dana’s can have a very negative affect on personal and work relationships, as well as job progression and overall success.
The good news is that people can change their self-esteem. The bad news is that it takes a lot of time and work– because our self esteem has been reinforcing itself through filtering since we were small children, so there’s a lot of data to overcome.
The last exercise in class on Friday was for the students to come up steps for improving self-esteem. With their permission, I’ve posted their list below.
Everything they’ve identified is backed up by research on the subject, so it’s sound advice. Please note though, for those with really poor self-esteem, it may take a lot more than just the steps below, including professional help for some, to improve self-esteem. But the tips below are a good start!
1. Associate with more positive people. Avoid or “cut loose” those people in your life who feed your negative self-esteem.
2. Focus on positives, not perfection. Realize no one is perfect and everybody has flaws. Rather than focusing on them, focus on your positive points, or even improving your flaws.
3. Write down your positives and put them where you can see them every day. We all need reminders of our good points every once in awhile. Especially when our society tends to be focused on negatives. Look at the news; it’s a “special report” at the very end of the news if there’s ever anything positive to talk about. Perhaps put the list on your bedroom or bathroom mirror so you can see them each morning as you get your day started.
4. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unreachable, unrealistic goals. At least at the outset of your efforts to improve your self-esteem, set goals you can attain. For big or long term goals, take things step-by-step to reach them. If you do, each step becomes a goal achieved.
5. Try not to let others’ judgments rule your life. Some people are very vocal in telling others what they should, or should not, be doing. Realize that people’s opinions are just that, opinions. You have opinions too, as do lots of other people. In the end, it’s really your opinion that counts, especially when it comes to what you do with your life. It’s not to say that we should never listen to others’ opinions- sometimes they might be more knowledgeable or experienced than we are. However, we shouldn’t let everyone else’s opinions negate our own.
6. Don’t use the word CAN’T. If you say you can’t, you’re right. You’ll never try and never get past that wall you create with the word can’t. If you want to know more about avoiding the word can’t in various situations, check out my other blog posts:
7. Find something you’re good at and do it. Some people discover their talents early. I’m guessing Michael Phelps and his family (and his coach) realized relatively early on that he was going to be a pretty good swimmer. Maybe you’re 40 and still haven’t identified your talents. Start looking for them. Explore new interests and pay attention to how you’re currently spending your time. Do friends call you for advice? Maybe you’re a great counselor or advisor. Are you handy with tools, computer programs, or languages? Pay attention and if you’re not finding anything- seek!
8. Be your own biggest fan. Al Franken used to do a skit on Saturday Night Live where he played Stuart Smalley. He sat at the mirror telling himself, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Although the skit makes fun of positive self-talk, in reality, we do need to affirm ourselves– mostly because we don’t get a lot of affirmation from others. People are mostly focused on themselves. Even if they care about us, they don’t always take the time to compliment us.
Take some time to acknowledge your own successes– you don’t even have to say them out loud in front of a mirror, just think about them.
9. Prove “them” wrong. If people tell you that you can’t- prove them wrong. If people say you’re not good enough- show them that you are. If people say you can’t achieve a goal- show them you can.
10. Realize in the end, you are the only person who can improve your self-esteem. No matter what others do or say, only you can change your filters and allow positive in and send positive out. Work on breaking up that negative filter and replacing it with a more positive one.
Thanks again to my interpersonal communication class for providing the material for this week’s blog post! Good job!