On the Job: Avoid Seeking Affirmation and Acknowledgement of your Expertise

We all have some form of insecurity that is usually overcome with age and wisdom (the flip side of insecurity is confidence and that comes gradually and with experience for most people). Confident people are more likely to achieve success, enjoy fulfilling and meaningful relationships with others, command the respect of others, and understand that validation is something that is internal to themselves.

Insecure people on the other hand, usually encounter difficulties in many areas of their lives as they devote much time and effort with obtaining the approval of others for everything they do in their lives. Such a quest is often the root cause of many other problems as they pursue validation through external sources (accolades, attention-getting behavior, possessions). On the job, such behavior can limit career advancement potential.

A former co-worker of mine is an absolutely brilliant professional. However, he had a somewhat irritating need for constant affirmation of his problem-solving abilities, semi-witty emails, and conference-call and hallway-conversation comebacks. His “addiction” for others to acknowledge his expertise or his humor (matter of opinion) spoke to his insecurities about his own capabilities.

People on the team were getting tired of hearing “Hey, how’d you like my email reply to….” Or “How’d you like the way I fixed that problem with…” Eventually, team members started telling him in sarcastic tones, “Yes, Michael…you are great…” or “Yes, Michael…that was soooo funny…”

The sad part was that the sarcasm from others never affected his behavior. He never got the message that his remarks were over the top. Finally, I had to approach Michael’s manager and tell him that Michael’s need for constant affirmation of his technical prowess and sort-of humor is beginning to grate on people in the work area. Michael’s manager had a talk with him, and while the behavior hasn’t been eliminated, it has been reduced to manageable levels. Unfortunately, this insecurity will be an issue that will prevent his promotion to higher levels within the organization.

Here are some tips on how to address this issue if it’s a problem:

  • Learn how to handle criticism. Be open to suggestions for improvement without disagreeing or arguing.
  • Learn to be comfortable with who you are regardless of whether others like it (excluding outrageous behavior).
  • Learn to tolerate or even enjoy periods of silence during the day. Practice using more of your time listening to others rather than talking (especially about yourself), and don’t feel you have to interject your own opinion on every issue. Sometimes talking less says so much more about you than flapping your gums on every single major, minor, and inconsequential issue.
  • Understand where the acceptable level of on-the-job humor is and stay a few notches below it. Insecure people are constantly joking or trying to be witty conversationalists in every dialogue with others. Much of the time, their humor borders on the juvenile.
  • Confident people don’t have to talk about how good they are; they let their work speak for them. Insecure people need to be self-promoting all the time to over-compensate for their self-doubt.
  • If you are in a leadership or managerial role, be a facilitator of the success of others. Insecure people in positions of power often transfer their lack of confidence into an overbearing managerial style, thereby lowering morale and productivity of subordinates. We’ve all had bosses like that.

There are two times when a self-acknowledgement of your accomplishments and expertise works to your advantage: (1) when asking for a raise and/or promotion; and (2) during annual performance reviews. At most any other time, it speaks more to a lack of self-confidence than abilities.

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