Whether you’re a business leader, student, or mid-level employee, you probably want to feel confident and be successful. Generally, leaders are already fairly confident and are trying to encourage their teams so they feel more self-assured. On the other hand, many individuals still grapple with a lack of self-confidence.
No matter who you are, understanding the connection between recognition and confidence will help you find success.
The importance of confidence and self-esteem expands into nearly every aspect of life. From motivation to relationships, confidence gives us the jumpstart necessary for success. It allows us to continue pushing for growth even when faced with failure or rejection. To get up again, having faith in our value and worth.
Despite the significance, maintaining high levels of confidence and self-esteem is something many people struggle with, especially the newest generation of employees, Gen Z. They’re anxious from watching the never ending stream of horrific stories on the news, and they’ve grown up looking at images of people photoshopped to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards. It’s no wonder people today have difficultly feeling good about themselves and the future.
The Recognition-Confidence Cycle
Sometimes, we find ourselves in a negative version of the recognition-confidence cycle. Without a baseline of self-esteem, people are more likely to be viewed as incompetent. For example, if an employee is starting a new position that requires more advanced skills, they might start out without much confidence in their ability to do the job. This lack of assuredness, however, is also likely to affect how capable and qualified others see them as, and they are therefore less likely to receive recognition for their efforts on the new job.
This phenomenon was first discovered in a social psychology experiment looking at actors’ comments on both upcoming and past performances. The actors who made positive claims about their performance were generally viewed more favorably by audience members. In contrast, the self-deprecating actors who made negative comments about themselves and their acting job were disliked more by the audience.
In addition to being disliked for self-deprecating behavior, people with low self-esteem have a hard time accepting recognition and praise. Even if someone does compliment them, there can be too much cognitive dissonance for them to truly accept and internalize anything positive about themselves.
It can be tough to get out of this cycle. People come in to a situation lacking confidence, and the very thing that would help build their self-worth the most – recognition – becomes even further out of reach.
At that point, it comes down to breaking out of the negative feedback loop and finding a way into the more positive version of the recognition-confidence cycle. One where confidence earns them recognition, which further strengthens their self-esteem. And then they can spread some of that confidence by giving recognition to others.
Enter: the key to accepting compliments.
When I was growing up and struggling to succeed at something, my grandpa always used to tell me, “Just fake it till you make it.” Though it didn’t make much sense at first, he repeated it over and over until I began to understand what he meant. Sometimes, in order to find the most success, you just have to jump right in and pretend you know what you’re doing. Sure, you’ll make mistakes along the way, but you’ll also be learning through those mistakes and making far more ground than you would sitting at home, waiting for the right time to arrive or for you to feel “ready.”
Similarly, telling yourself positive affirmations (even if you don’t believe them at first) can be a powerful way to build your self-confidence over time. It takes interrupting negative thoughts like “I can’t do that,” or “They don’t like me,” with positive self-talk like “I am capable,” and “People appreciate my presence.”
Although this can feel strange at first, our brains are extremely malleable. By thinking the same thing over and over, we can form entirely new neural pathways for thoughts to travel down. With consistent practice, negative thoughts about yourself can be replaced with positive ones, increasing your self-confidence.
Spread the Recognition Love
Although being self-assured is great in itself, the ultimate success is to also lift up everyone around you such that everyone feels appreciated, respected, and important. This may seem daunting at first, but there are a few key ways to help grow the self-esteem of those around you, whether you’re in a business leadership role or not. Let’s use Brian Tracy’s “Three A’s of Building Employee Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence” as a framework for understanding.
Taking the time to express gratitude towards someone is almost always a good idea. Not only does it feel good for the recipient, but appreciation has been shown to benefit the health of the giver as well.
Recognizing people after they do something favorable also reinforces the positive behavior, leading to further recognition down the line when people know what to do to gain appreciation from those around them.
And, of course, appreciation builds confidence for the recipient. It is a way of saying, “I see the value and worth you have as a human being in my life.” If leaders and employees together set the expectation to have “an attitude of gratitude” in the office, more people will feel confident in their positions and therefore be comfortable spreading the love and appreciating others.
Similar to appreciation, approval refers to deliberate praise given to a recipient.
Specifically, however, approval given in public is the most impactful long term. The more detailed the account of the recipient’s performance, the more likely it is that they will remember it and strive to achieve even more in the future.
Finally, focus on listening and being there for someone when they need you. Listening gives the signal to the speaker that what they have to say is important, which aids in self-confidence.
By simply letting people know how much they mean to us, we can make a huge difference in the way others see themselves. If we want to fight back against the epidemic of insecurity that plagues much of modern society (I’m looking at you, Gen Z), we can look to recognition as a way to uplift everyone, showing them the inherent value they hold.
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