The fact that everybody has different opinions is what makes the act of persuasion so much fun — and so rewarding. Think of the psychology of self-persuasion as a “big bang theory.” That bang begins with self-esteem, and I believe self-esteem leads to self-efficacy, self-efficacy breeds self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to persuasion success.
If you think of yourself as talented and capable, you’ll work to learn new skills. When you acquire that skillset, you’re more confident in speaking with influential others in project meetings. And when you’re more confident in those meetings, you’ll be more inclined to make an effort to gain support for your persuasion priorities.
See how this works?
Here’s another example: If you think of yourself as a valuable person with lots of ideas to contribute, you’ll work to put yourself in new situations, such as making a presentation at a key shareholders’ meeting. When you have that opportunity, you’ll provide a meaningful and compelling talk. And when you accomplish that, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities — and others will see you as more capable, too.
Avoid Black Holes
The reverse of these events, however, can be catastrophic. If your self-esteem is either partially or wholly dependent on your persuasion success (winning that promotion or prevailing in an argument) be prepared for the psychological equivalent of a black hole. The gravity of your situation will not even allow light to shine through. Imagine the devastating effect that could have on your career.
Here are two examples of how everything can go downhill if you rely on positive feedback to boost self-esteem:
- You don’t understand what people are talking about when it comes to finances. You asked a question once, to which several people laughed at your lack of financial acumen. Subsequently, you withdraw whenever financial matters are discussed. You don’t participate, and you feel as if you don’t really belong at a meeting with people of this caliber.
- You’re petrified to give a research presentation to the executive team, because you’ve done so before and people criticized your efforts. So you do everything possible to duck the assignment. But when you do, you’re conflicted because you feel like this is an opportunity you must take advantage of in order to further your position in the organization. You have to, but you can’t.
This is a soul-crushing, potentially career-destroying, psychological state. The biggest problem here is that you’ve handed over your mental wellness to feedback and criticism of others.
So the question is: Do you have to do good to be good? Excluding the theological perspective, which exceeds the scope of this website, no — you don’t. You have worth and value despite what happened at yesterday’s staff meeting.
To be honest, though, if you aren’t so good at something, how do you build the self-esteem to make the effort to become good at it? How can you have more big bangs and fewer black holes?
I’ll answer those questions next time.