Undoing Early Messaging

Mar 16, 2019

The mother of missed opportunity is any time you’ve let early messaging erode your confidence.

From the elementary school classroom to the executive suite early messaging manifests in women’s self-talk.

At first, messaging starts in childhood with the deep-rooted social norm that correlates approval and likability with psychological safety, and then peaks with troublesome hyper-vigilant behavior as an adult. Girls—women—seek acceptance so they censor themselves to avoid any rejection. Their self-talk criticizes and restrains them.

Do What’s Natural

By their very nature girls are predisposed to self-discipline. From their first step inside a classroom to the conclusion of their college years, girls are typically more disciplined about their schoolwork than boys. This self-regulation may earn them gold stars and bolster affirmation, but it keeps them craving more approval and invites the notion that they are most valued when they do things “right.” Unfortunately, these early gender-specific approaches to learning set in and affect behavior long after the classroom is left behind.

Have you ever sat in a meeting holding on to an idea but stayed quiet for fear of putting yourself out there? Or have you ever hidden behind the perceived safety net of stating your point in a question-tone?

These are both examples of how women demonstrate approval-seeking behavior and thwart their own confidence by avoiding acts of courage that would foster belief in their own abilities.

see it over and over again in the women I coach. No matter where they are in their career, if they occupy an ordinary cubical or reside in the executive suite, by and large women avoid risk, doubt their own abilities, and only feel confident taking a step when they believe they have it all figured out.

Finding A New Way

Men on the other hand are leaders of their own learning. They press on within the context of learning. When a mistake is made, men are more likely to see it as a lack of effort and try again.

Conversely, a woman will see a mistake as a lack of skill and dwell on it until she feels like she has it all figured out. Her confidence in herself is eroded; the message has been received: she is not doing things “right.”

Men receive early messaging that bolsters accomplishment and instills behaviors that forsake “right” for “accomplished” despite approval. Men brim with confidence because they have been given the breadth to try and fail from an early age, to succeed with effort in check, and to develop an instrumental core competency of confidence – a belief in their own abilities.

The fact that men hold an astounding 95% of top positions in the largest public companies begs the question, “Do the practices and conditioning which drive girls to the top of their class prevent their advancement in the workforce?”

The number one thing women can do to reverse the effects of early messaging and bridge the confidence gap is to be aware and manage their self-talk: recognize and avoid decisions based on fear; assign value to accomplishing her own goals over others’ approval; and keep mistakes in perspective by not over identifying with them.


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