Dealing with Difficult People: Low self-efficacy

It is often the case that managers come across employees who have a very low level of self efficacy. In such circumstances, it is very difficult to motivate these individuals and to get good results out of them. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s subjective beliefs about his/her capability to succeed at performing a specific task. People usually possess differing degrees of self-efficacy about various tasks. For example, some believe they are good in math but not so good in chemistry, while for others it is the other way around. In general, the more self-efficacy an individual has, the more motivated and persistent he/she will be in accomplishing a task, and the more difficult tasks he/she will attempt and succeed at. Feelings of self-efficacy start developing in early childhood and continue throughout an individual’s life; they are not constant and fixed and can be enhanced or diminished. Studies have indicated that motivation will increase as perceptions of self-efficacy increase.

Larry is 26 years old. He has been working for a media design company for two years. He is a talented individual but not very self-confident and assertive. His manager, Jane, notices his talent and potential but also realizes that those qualities do not always translate into superior performance. She wonders what factors prohibit him from delivering better results at work.

After talking to Larry, Jane realizes that he doesn’t believe he is very talented and creative. Because of his low self-efficacy for his job, he does not feel that trying harder will bring about superior performance or desirable outcomes, such as respect of others and positive performance rating. He has many ideas for projects the company is working on but he usually just keeps them to himself because, in his opinion, they don’t fall in line with company’s direction. Jane really likes some of Larry’s designs and does think that they follow with the company’s direction. She devised a plan to bring Larry out of his shell and help him perform on a higher level.

Jane gave Larry assignments that progress from easy to difficult levels. Successfully accomplishing progressively difficult tasks helped Larry realize that he is competent at his job and capable of superior performance. Allowing him to work on tasks at which he excels, as well as offering opportunities to try new task, challenged him and encouraged a balance of success and personal and professional growth for Larry.

Jane encouraged Larry to observe other people at company meetings, note how forthcoming they are in bringing up their ideas and suggestions. The social and professional climate at the company was very supportive and non-judgmental; no idea is looked down upon, no matter how outlandish. After all, the job they are doing is all about creativity and thinking outside the box. This experience helped Larry become more vocal and forthcoming with his ideas. By watching his peers, he first learned to repeat or to mimic their ways and then finally develop his own. The full engagement with the mentors also promoted social interaction which led to a higher self esteem and confidence in himself.

Jane also gave Larry plenty of encouragement overall. For example, after every assignment was accomplished, Larry received encouraging and supportive feedback in front of the entire group. This public acknowledgement in front of his peers built and encouraged his self-confidence. With this feeling of respect among his co-workers, Larry stopped feel so timid or scared to step up. This step aided in restoring and strengthening Larry’s confidence in his abilities.

In order for Larry to be able to associate certain levels of accomplishments with different emotions, Jane also allowed him to perform certain tasks under different scenarios and circumstances. Individuals perform differently based on the environment they are working in. It is like a trial by error situation; Larry may perform the same task more efficiently by feeling more pressure or the total opposite and altogether fail. Jane allowed him to experience different situations. Given the opportunity to work in different conditions, Larry gained a self knowledge of how to handle any situation as it arises. This exercise helped increase Larry’s self-efficacy to believe in his ability.

At the end of the action plan, Jane had finally managed to transform Larry into a more confident and able individual and he also started to churn out much better results in terms of work performance.