"I Can't Do It" Is A Problem Print

Dr. Thad B. Green

Everyone experiences the uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence at one time or another. Sometimes people find themselves in jobs they simply can not handle. Almost everyone experiences situations where they do not have all of the skills they need.

This is particularly true when a wide variety of tasks is involved, when people are promoted and transferred, when jobs are undergoing change, and when employees are asked to do something different than usual or to do things in a different way.

There are many occasions for people to question their ability to get the job done. Nobody is good at everything, and everybody is asked, at one time or another, to do something they are not good at. When this happens, people often conclude, "I can't do it." What is the result of this? Motivation suffers, and so does effort and performance.

The widespread prevalence of this problem, where people conclude "I can't do it," generally is not recognized, and for good reason. People do not talk about it. They keep it to themselves. They even lie about it, saying "Sure, I can do it," even when they don't believe they can.

Why do people hide self-doubt? The main reason is because they are afraid of the consequences. Making others aware of weaknesses tends to intensify feelings of inadequacy. Beyond this is the fear that others will reject us, or take advantage of us, because of the weakness. This is particularly true when it comes to superiors. Employees generally go to great lengths to hide weaknesses from the boss.

From the manager's perspective, what does this mean? Several things. One, every manager has employees whose motivation, effort, and performance suffer at times because of self-doubt. Two, employees tend to hide their lack of confidence and it may go unnoticed for a long time.

Three, the impact of self-doubt can be costly and far reaching. Motivation, effort, and performance suffer. Managers blame employees. Employees blame managers for throwing them into situations they are ill-prepared to handle. The work becomes stressful and less enjoyable. Manager-employee relationships become strained. Suddenly, things are out of hand. Why? Because the employee didn't say, "Look, I don't think I can do this," and because the manager wasn't aware there was a problem.

Self-doubt is a serious problem. It holds people back. This has come to light with recent advances in the expectancy theory of motivation. These advances point out that people are motivated to perform well only when the following three conditions are met:

1. when the person believes effort will lead to performance (Belief 1);

2. when the person believes outcomes are tied to performance (Belief 2); and

3. when the person believes the outcomes will be satisfying (Belief 3).

The issue is whether or not employees will be motivated to do the job. The classical approaches to motivation and performance stress Belief 3, while giving some attention to Belief 2, and ignoring Belief 1 (self-confidence). In other works, the classical approaches do not recognize that self-doubt has a negative impact on motivation.

However, many people experience situations where they conclude, "I can't do it." When this happens, motivation suffers, and so does effort and performance. This is a serious problem in the workplace.

Managers need to do several things. First, become more aware of the damaging impact "I can't do it" beliefs have on performance. Second,

recognize that most employees experience self-doubt in some part of their job. Third, identify employees who may have specific confidence problems and take steps to remove their self-doubt.

Fourth, avoid saying or doing anything that would have a negative impact employee self-confidence. Fifth, give employees confidence building experiences. Sixth, adopt a management style that builds, rather than destroys, employee self-confidence.

Managers who focus on helping employees believe "I can do it" will see results. Employees will be more motivated, and this will show in their effort and performance.


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