I have been facilitating the “Essentials of Leadership” class by Development Dimensions International (DDI) for over 10 years. The first Key Principle is “maintain or enhance self esteem”. I find it interesting that in most classes, the concept of enhancing self esteem is much more difficult if the person you are interacting with appears to be confident. Why enhance a self esteem that already seems to be adequately enhanced? Why stroke someone who seems to be already full of themselves? It would be like paying a compliment to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Donald Trump. Why do that? They don’t need it.
I think we also get repelled when complimenting someone who is of higher status, say your boss or a peer who is obviously bringing in a bigger paycheck. What’s the point? They never compliment me. Why add to their bucket if they aren’t adding to mine? Maybe their bucket will overflow and I won’t have any.
On the flip side, it so easy to give an “Atta boy” to your child for the smallest of achievements. Heck. I even say “good girl” when my dog stops to piddle when I walk her. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Esteem” is one step below “Self Actualization”. So creativity and problem solving (Self Actualization) can’t even happen unless the Esteem is met first. I think we better get on the stick and start enhancing everyone’s self esteem regardless of their status or position in life.
Here are some ideas on how to elevate self esteem:
1. Thanks. It’s important to thank those around you. Whether it’s the server who refilled your water glass, the guy who bagged your groceries or your boss when she gives you some direction on the project; it never hurts to thank someone for even the smallest deed. When my son finally gets to the dishes three hours after dinner is done, I thank him. It might be late, I might be frustrated but it’s better to encourage the behavior rather than to diminish his self esteem.
2. Appreciation. I think this is one small step up from thanks. It’s expanding the idea of thanking someone with just a bit more detail. For instance, “Thanks for emptying the garbage” or “I appreciate that you put more detail in the report.” It specifies what exactly you are appreciating. “Thanks for responding in a timely manner.” This is going to encourage more of the same.
3. Connect. If you connect it to how or why the behavior was important, it reinforces the behavior. So that might look like “Because you emptied the garbage for me, I made it to my meeting on time, thanks” or “Since you put more detail in the report, the committee understood the impact of the decision, thanks”. If you can tie the behavior to an impact on the organization, group or to you personally, you start hitting the sweet spot of enhancing self esteem.
4. Sincere. This is difficult to gauge but I think we all know in our gut when someone is being insincere. Somehow the compliment falls flat. Perhaps it’s the inflection in the voice or that someone is normally sarcastic so it’s difficult to tell when sarcasm stops and sincerity begins. It starts with you. Be sincere. If you know in your heart you are sincere; it won’t fall flat.
5. Specific. The more specific you are; the more bang for the buck. There is a difference between “You look great” to “I love your blouse” to “That blouse is beautiful, the color highlights your eyes.” They are all good. The last statement is just more effective because it’s more specific. The enhancement of the self esteem is even greater.
6. Equal Opportunity. Be an equal opportunity enhancer. The meek of the world are not the only ones who need enhancement. I think blowhards like Trump need enhancement as well. I think that arrogance can be a sign that someone is over compensating for not receiving enough positive strokes in their life. The best defense is a good offense. People around them think they are full of themselves but inside they are yearning for validation. Go ahead and fill their bucket. You will feel better for it. Honest.
There is pay off for all this. People naturally gravitate to positive people. The neighbor I grew up next door to as a kid was always positive and constantly enhanced my self esteem. She always looked for the best in me. Be that positive influence on others in your life and they will gravitate towards you.
How do you enhance self esteem?