“Impressive,” he says. “You don’t need my approval, do you? Well, you created an excellent ad campaign in record time and with great results. Pat yourself on the back. Job well done.”
I nod in appreciation, happy to hear the words; I’m in the habit of moving on to the next thing without so much as the slightest positive reinforcement — from me to me. The result is this: The approval of a manager, a client or someone else in my life is powerful.
Unfortunately, the praise comes in indirect fashion — an imaginary conversation as I wake, somewhere between dream and consciousness.
So I ask myself: Why can’t I savor my own accomplishments? Why is it so much easier to approve of others? Why do some of us struggle to give ourselves credit for a job well done?
Built-In Feedback in the White Collar Workplace
In the years of working in a traditional corporate environment, professional acknowledgment came in a formalized manner. Not only were there performance reviews to quantify and document a good job, but in my varied places of employment, managers and team members alike provided ongoing feedback. We praised and encouraged each other when hard work was yielding progress. These were not gratuitous remarks, but rather an effective means of accomplishing goals in a congenial environment.
In the years I’ve freelanced — both on-site and from a home office — I’ve lived through troubled circumstances (impossible objectives, insufficient resources) and also been part of dedicated, professional and well-schooled teams. I believe I’ve delivered excellent work under all these conditions, though clearly the former were unpleasant and the latter, a pleasure!
Generally, in the case of dysfunctional environments where I was a temporary (even “emergency”) set of extra hands, lack of positive feedback came with the package, worsened by the absence of my own internal “atta girl.”
In Praise of (Managed) Praise
As a parent, I acquired a habit of praising both results and effort. I had to feel my way with each child (their needs and responses were different), yet my own reticence to do the same for myself doesn’t negate the need for approval or acknowledgement. What it does indicate is the lingering sense of never being good enough, so entrenched throughout childhood.
Hardly uncommon (particularly for women), that, too, keeps me wondering — especially in the wake of this morning’s preoccupation with exactly that. Why do I suddenly need to hear “job well done?”
I am also reflecting on the fact that I have wanted to hear these words in my relationship. Respecting the opinion of the man in my life, any such praise has been rare to non-existent. Over time, this has struck me as hurtful, though I’m certain it has never been intended as such.
I know the work I’ve shown him is good; why have I needed his approval rather than my own? Why has it bothered me that I haven’t received it?
You Rock! (Who Doesn’t Want to Hear That?)
Psych Central offers this on our need for approval in relationships:
… Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the desire for validation is one of the strongest motivating forces known to man… everyone has the inherent desire to feel safe and secure, and human behavior revolves around the need to garner that sense of physical and emotional security… feeling approved of makes us feel secure…
That’s all well and good, but aren’t some individuals adept at self-praise? Don’t they give themselves the thumbs up easily? They don’t seem to overdo it, resting on their proverbial laurels, but they do take the time to enjoy a small victory, take a breath, and then move on to the next thing.
The Psych Central article goes on to explain that we are taught as children to seek our parents’ approval, which helps us feel safe. When we don’t get that positive acknowledgment, or worse, when we’re on the receiving end of rejection, “it can undermine our view of ourselves.”
In my own case, with an essentially absentee father and a highly critical mother, it doesn’t take much to put one and one together and arrive at two. On the other hand, over the years, I’ve known many wonderful experiences (both personal and professional), I’ve known academic success (which instilled confidence), and in particular, I’ve been privileged to enjoy the satisfaction of raising two great kids.
Your Toughest Jobs? Your Atta Girl and Atta Boy?
Parenting? That’s the hardest work I’ve ever done! And I’m able to give myself some credit as a mother whereas in other realms, I don’t.
Certainly, I’m delighted when a client tells me I’ve helped (and equally pleased when I receive positive feedback from readers). Yet I nonetheless remain challenged in the “self-approval” department. Not wanting to point the finger at a combination of upbringing and work ethic in entirety, might my hesitation be an overreaction to a wildly self-promotional world?
PsychCentral offers a useful perspective on the viability of self-validation:
… When you work hard on a project or goal, find a way to reward yourself. It is not egotistical to give yourself acknowledgment…
My mother, the queen of narcissistic behaviors long before society was preoccupied with this subject, was quick to laud and applaud her own talents and achievements. No doubt this set the stage for my tendency to turn away from an approval seeking style. In fact, approval seeking typically reflects
- low self-esteem
- low self-confidence
- relationship insecurity / uncertainty
Self-confidence? On the professional front, I’d say I’m quite healthy in that regard. Self-esteem? There, too, I would say I’ve come far from where I was as a teenager or young adult; for the most part, I’m comfortable with who I am.
Relationship insecurity? On that item, isn’t it usual to want a positive word from the people closest to us — even on occasion?
Would I be better served by asking why they are withholding what I give freely, which ought to be a two-way street?
Approval-Seeking Behaviors: Just Say No?
This article on unhelpful approval seeking behaviors caught my eye, outlining some of the most common offenders. They include:
- changing your position to gain approval
- insincere compliments to gain approval
- begging for / soliciting compliments
- fear of saying “no”
- asking permission unnecessarily
- constantly apologizing
On the other side of the approval equation is the one who withholds praise. Some may do so out of malice or envy, and others, out of ignorance.
The trick, it seems to me, is finding that happy medium in both giving and taking that suits us as individuals, and likewise, the situations we’re in. While we may not be free to ask for a “job well done” from an employer or client, we should be able to talk to those who are closest to us and gently express the need for their recognition.
Clearly, the way we communicate this need makes a significant difference in its likelihood of success. I imagine something along the lines of this. “I value your opinion. It’s natural that I want you to think well of me and the work that I show you. I’m not looking for empty praise, but understand that the occasional good word would mean a lot to me.”
And perhaps some of us, including me, ought to say the same to ourselves.
You May Also Enjoy