We all know someone who radiates self-confidence. Think about one of these people that you know in the workplace. What is it that their self-confidence helps them to achieve? Are they more willing to take on responsibility, at ease around their superiors, and able to admit when they have made a mistake? Now think about someone at the workplace who does not have a lot of self-confidence. They might be shy, reserved, not willing to get into conversations where they might have to speak to their superiors or speak in front of other people. They might appear unhappy in the workplace, or at least not very excited about what it is that they are doing. Can you see how self-confidence might be important to people in being successful at work?
According to psychological research, there are several theories regarding how a person’s self-confidence is important to their well-being and their ability to function in the world at their fullest potential. In this chapter we will look at the differences between self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, and theories about why each is important in the workplace.
Self-confidence can be boiled down to the belief that a person has it in their ability to succeed at a task, based on whether or not they have been able to perform the task in the past. However, there are actually two aspects of self-confidence. The first is competence, whether or not you have the necessary skills and abilities to complete a task. The second is self-assurance and whether or not you believe that you have the ability to complete the task.
Think about this for a moment; you might have been trained in interview skills, but you might not feel comfortable in interviews. In this case, you would have the competence but lack the self-assurance. On the other hand, you could believe that you have the ability to do something but not have the skills to actually carry it through. In this case, you are very self-assured, but you don’t have the competence to do the job.
True self-confidence occurs when both competence and self-assurance are in balance with each other. Self-confidence has been shown to be important in the recovery from injury, overcoming setbacks, and moving through negative experiences in life. Someone with self-confidence has a belief that they will be able to recover, move past the negative, and again experience the positive. In the business world, self-confidence functions in much the same way. It enables an employee to recover from setbacks and challenges and continue to move forward.
Self-esteem is the capacity to respect and think well of yourself. It means that you appreciate yourself as a unique individual with your own set of skills, talents, and abilities. David Burns defines self-esteem as “the capacity to experience maximal self-love and joy whether or not you are successful at any point in your life.”
Psychologist Maxine Elliott has researched self-esteem and realized that people’s self-esteem will vary from individual to individual when they are facing a setback. People who have a high level of self-esteem will be able to respond to a damaging event by using their past experience and their coping abilities and will not have much damage to their current level of self-esteem. They will still see themselves as valuable and talented even if the current evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
However, most people will experience some loss of self-esteem when they face a negative situation and unfortunately, those who already have low self-esteem will also experience the largest reduction in what little self-esteem they have. In other words, they will see their failure as further proof that they are incapable of being successful. This type of negative cycle will perpetuate itself each time that a person with low self-esteem faces failure, criticism, or roadblocks.
Albert Bandura is considered an expert on the concept of self-efficacy. He stated that people perceive their own self-efficacy as “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances. It is concerned not with the skills one has but with the judgments of what one can do with whatever skills one possesses.” In other words, self-efficacy is an individual’s evaluation of their own ability to be successful in attaining a specific goal.
Bandura stated that the amount of self-efficacy a person has is dependent on their ability to apply coping behaviors, increase their level of effort, and how long they will be able to retain their optimism when facing difficult obstacles and experiences. In addition, he stated that the more a person is tested by facing their fears and stepping outside of their comfort zones, the more they will enhance their sense of self-efficacy.
If a person does not have a base level of self-efficacy, they will be unwilling to attempt a new task or challenge, which could, of course, hold them back in the workplace. The greater your self-efficacy, the more willing you will be to grow your skills by attempting new challenges –and the less you will be affected if you don’t succeed.
2.4.1 Sources of Self-Efficacy
There are four main sources that allow people to build their self-efficacy. These are:
Let’s look at each one of these individually:
Mastery experiences – this is the most effective way to create a strong sense of self-efficacy for a person. As each success is achieved, the sense of self-efficacy is reinforced. However, a bit of failure is important as well. If people only experience easy successes, they will begin to feel that success is what they should experience every time they make an attempt at something new. Some setbacks are important because they teach us that we need to make a sustained effort to be successful. Still, upsets should not come, if it can be avoided, until a person has had a chance to establish a certain level of self-efficacy.
Social models – these are examples of others who we see succeed. When we see someone that we feel is similar to ourselves achieve, we will feel that we are likely to be able to follow suit. At the same time, seeing people like ourselves fail despite a level of sustained effort can have a negative impact on our own self-efficacy. These models are most effective, in either case, when they are perceived to have the greatest similarity to ourselves. These models tell us the types and level of competencies to which we should aspire if we want to be successful in the workplace – and in life in general.
Social persuasion – the old pep talk. When we can persuade someone that they have the competencies and abilities to master an activity, they are more likely to make longer, sustained efforts at achieving success than if they have significant self-doubt. While social persuasion can enhance self-efficacy, it can even more easily diminish it. People tend to easily believe the negative and may decide that they are unqualified to even attempt a task – even if they actually do have the ability to complete it successfully. This factor points to the importance of leaders in an organization to frequently persuade people that they are capable and competent.
However, it’s important not to persuade someone that they are capable of something when they truly are not. You will simply reinforce any negative self-doubts that a person had – not to mention shaking their faith in you as a leader. If you are a manager, you will need to strike a balance between challenging your employees in order to stimulate their self-confidence and being careful not to set them up in situations where they are sure to fail.
Emotional states – people judge themselves on their emotional reactions to situations as well. If they react with stress and tension, they may interpret those reactions as signs that they are weak or vulnerable. Mood can also affect self-efficacy; a positive mood will enhance it, while a negative mood will diminish it. A work environment that allows opportunities for stress reduction teaches stress management, and acknowledges stress as a normal part of life rather than a personal weakness will help to foster positive self-efficacy in its employees.
2.4.2 How Self-Efficacy Affects Functioning
There are four major psychological processes that are important when discussing the fact that how a person perceives their self-efficacy can have an impact on their ability to function, perform, and achieve.
These four processes are:
Now we’ll look at each of these in detail.
Cognitive processes – we begin to analyze our ability to perform tasks or reach goals during the cognitive process of thought. We will 'rehearse’ scenes in our mind or imagine what will happen in a given scenario in an attempt to be prepared for, or even control, the events that will happen in our lives. We draw conclusions, make assumptions, and predict what we think will occur. We then compare the actual results to our predictions and evaluate how well we were able to ‘predict’ what would happen. If you have higher self-efficacy, you will also be able to manage your analytical thinking processes better under stress than someone who doesn’t.
Motivational processes – since self-motivation is usually generated by thought, our self-efficacy plays a role as well. We use forethought as a way to regulate our motivation by imagining what we believe we can achieve. We then use our cognitive skills to set goals for ourselves and to identify what steps are necessary to achieve those goals. There are actually three different subsets of motivational processes that come under this theory:
-Causal attributions – in these instances, those with high self-efficacy understand that their failures are a result of low effort, while those with low self-efficacy will see their failures as the result of a lack of ability. Motivation can be affected in either case because in the first, a person will believe that they simply need to try harder, while in the second, a person may believe that it doesn’t matter how hard they try.
-Outcome expectancies – in these situations, a person believes that a certain outcome will result in correspondence to a given behavior. We predict what we will get if we give a certain level of input, assistance, effort, etc. If we have high self-efficacy, we know that we simply have to give the right input to get the desired outcome, and will be motivated by that understanding. If we have low self-efficacy, we either cannot understand what input we need to give or we simply don’t think we are capable of giving it.
-Self-influence by goal setting – we will talk more about goal-setting in a later chapter, but this is the idea that we are able to influence our own motivation by setting our own goals and challenges. We will be satisfied if we achieve our goals, and less satisfied if we do not. Again, self-efficacy plays a role because it will affect the level of challenge and goal that we will set for ourselves. If we see the goal as simply a function of the right activity combination, we will set it high when we have high self-efficacy because we will believe we can attain the goal. If we don’t have high self-efficacy, we will set low goals for ourselves – if we set them at all.
Affective processes – this element relates to how we perceive our own coping abilities. If we face a difficult situation and have low self-efficacy in this area, we are more likely to experience high levels of stress and depression. If we have a high level of self-efficacy related to our ability to cope, we will be in action around resolving the situation or getting through the difficult scenario rather than getting mired down and stressing over negative outcomes that are either out of our control or are very unlikely to happen. In other words, those with self-efficacy know that they will be capable of handling whatever life throws at them. Those without it will experience a great deal of fear and anxiety and may not be capable of coping with difficulties.
Selection processes – finally, self-efficacy affects us by influencing the decisions that we make for ourselves in our lives. Our level of belief in ourselves and our abilities can shape the environments we choose, the educational path we opt for, and the type of career we pursue as well.
If you are in an environment that you are unhappy with, one question to ask yourself is whether or not you chose that position because you didn’t believe in yourself enough to push yourself further in your education or the risks you took at work to prove yourself. The higher the level of self-efficacy a person has, the less likely they are to ‘settle’ in a career that they don’t find satisfying.
Therefore, you want employees with a high level of self-efficacy because it is more likely that they will have actively chosen their current profession and that they will be more interested in it and enthusiastic about it.