How To Avoid Crushing The Self Confidence Of Others

by  Scott Mautz  |  Team Dynamics
How to Avoid Crushing the Self Confidence of Others

We have enough barriers to performing at our best in today’s high-stress work world.

Why on earth would we add to the tension even more by unknowingly compromising our employee’s self-confidence? We don’t mean to, but yet we do.

Research indicates that dismissing the importance of an employee’s ideas or work can crush a sense of self-confidence and accordingly a sense of meaning for the employee.

This can occur whether the work is overtly dismissed or even if there is simply a failure to recognize the importance of one’s contributions.

The same is true of overly critical or punishing behavior such as unduly harsh feedback, overemotional reactions, a nothing-is-ever-good-enough mindset, or plain callousness – all of which can induce the question, “What’s the point?.”

Criticized employees start to wonder if they are truly valued and respected or if they will ever match up to the overbearing bosses expectations. It’s hard for our employees to find meaning and fulfillment at work when doubt continually creeps in for them and they start wondering whether they are even fulfilling our base expectations. Likewise, if you are quick to criticize and slow to praise, don’t be surprised if your employee’s work needs criticizing and isn’t worth praise.

I can recommend six ways to help keep you from exhibiting overcritical and callous behavior at work, thus avoiding the potential to compromise an employee’s sense of self-confidence:

  1. Assume They Care About Doing Good Work – Criticism about someone else’s work is often born out of frustration and assumptions that the other person lacks regard for doing the job right. Don’t assume that. Plain and simple: stop being so critical. There is simply no substitute for giving the benefit of the doubt and building corrective comments on a foundational belief that others want to do their best. People generally want to shine, not shirk.
  2. Don’t Create The Need For Neutralization – When people get harshly criticized, they tend to engage in a number of tactics to neutralize the sting. They will do things like seek out other people’s opinions, withdraw and take recovery time, console themselves that their manager doesn’t define them, or look for validation elsewhere. An ounce of prevention is required here. Imagine sending someone off forced to soothe the bite of brittle feedback and anticipate that you could cause this scenario if you aren’t careful. This will remind you to apply a filter to avoid unduly harsh feedback.
  3. Plant Seeds Of Growth, Not Seeds Of Doubt – Related to the above but worthy of separate consideration is the thought that criticism should be given and framed in a way to actually encourage nurturing and growth. The idea is to give constructive, not destructive, feedback and to avoid creating self-confidence setbacks.
  4. Don’t Manufacture Mis-Attribution, Share Context – There is a good chance that criticism poorly delivered from you will be rejected by the recipient and attributed to any unkind perceptions the recipient might have about you, thereby widening an existing rift or unintentionally causing a new one. Context can often be missing–context that, if you shared and clarified, would improve receptivity of the well-intended criticism. Instead, package criticisms with thoughtful explanations of why the criticism is being offered and how it could help the individual. By depersonalizing the criticism you will turn it from overbearing to overflowing with good intent.
  5. Better Self-Manage Anxiety & Stress – Criticism of others often comes from our insecurities or inability to manage our own anxieties and stress. Better managing these forces can make us better managers – ones that don’t subconsciously project our own insecurities by defaulting to criticism of others, and thus causing insecurities to arise in others as well.
  6. Warm Up – Yes, this means stop being an ice queen or king. This can create doubts in your employee’s minds about how you are perceiving them. People can read a lack of compassion and warmth a mile away, and they will stay a mile away when they sense it.
Have you ever had your confidence crushed? What would have prevented that from happening?
Photo Credit: Fotolia duncanandison

About The Author

Articles By scott-mautz
Scott Mautz is author of Make It Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning , which was just named a “Best Book of 2015” by Soundview BusinessBooks. He’s also an award winning keynote speaker, and a 20+ year veteran of Procter & Gamble, having run several thriving, multi-billion dollar divisions along the way. Connect with Scott at  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Scott – another interesting and useful post:)

I have had my self-confidence dented, smashed, and ground into little bitty bits on various occasions in my working and personal life. If I am completely honest, I have also done more than my fair share of denting, smashing, and grinding in this respect. You are correct that this is unfortunately a common experience for all of us.

I think your list of leader behaviors and attitudes is comprehensive and valuable – one of those things we print out and tape to our bathroom mirror to remind us how to relate to each other every day.

I would comment that this self-confidence thing has another component: Ourselves.

Since self-confidence has to do with self-concept, it is ultimately an internal phenomena that exists in our brain. As Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Given this, we have to factor in our own responsibilities in this regard.

Ego plays a role from the manager’s or leader’s behavior here, but it can also set us up for being “dented”. I think your point 5 addresses this very directly.

Enjoyed this post, which made me think this morning, which is what we are all after:)


Cassandra Ferguson  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Love you it John,so true!!

Cassandra Ferguson

Scott Mautz  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Simply outstanding point John. We also must hold ourselves accountable for the self-perceptions we allow. Thanks so much for taking the time to craft such a thoughtful, and thought provoking, response.

Reginald Chan  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi Scott,

I totally agree with “Plant Seeds Of Growth”. For me (as a manager), it is always important to guide your team and make them feel confidence with themselves.

Of course, you need to be there, stand by their side and encourage them to go for it!

Good job and well written by the way!

Scott Mautz  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thx so much for the support Reginald, I couldn’t agree with you more – you have to be right there with them and “give them permission” to go for it!

Cassandra Ferguson  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Wow! This post is confirmation on a conversation I was having this morning with my husband.

I to have been in a place where I was walking along enjoying what I was doing and here comes that insecure person crushing my confidence. This was a great lesson and my life that caused me to see the importance of encouragement.
Thank you so much for this amazing post that I will share with my family and friends.

Cassandra Ferguson

Scott Mautz  |  04 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thx so much for your comment Cassandra. Indeed, we cannot let the insecurities of someone else breed new ones in ourselves. I’m glad my post may have been of some small use to you.

Julian  |  06 Sep 2015  |  Reply

This is a good article, and I do agree with most of the points, but in my experience the job is too busy, there is simply not enough time for praise or positive feedback.
Only recently am I changing my beliefs (after having them for many years) so that my self-value and confidence isn’t eroded when someone criticizes me or gives me negative feedback.

Thanks for posting

Scott Mautz  |  06 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thx Julian for your response. Time is quite often the mortal enemy of the efforts it takes to praise and build up others. It is magnified when we don’t receive enough praise ourselves; we wonder “I’m not getting praised, it’s apparent I don’t need to take the time to do this for others – it’s obviously not valued.”
Thx for your willingness to begin the journey of shifting your point of view on this, as it is fundamental to sustaining motiavtion over the long haul.

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