How did you feel in the last conversation you had? Were your ideas and opinions genuinely heard? Were any of your thoughts questioned? In the last meeting you were in did you feel a sense of being fully in the middle of the conversation or sat on the outside wanting to keep pushing your comments so they would be listened to?
In every conversation our brains scan every word, every rise of the eyebrows, each shift in tone and slight movement in posture. Your conversations work on a continual feedback loop between the brains involved that are assessing whether we are facing a friend or foe and what our social rank is in relation to the other. We have all experienced situations where we have felt a nobody and a somebody each triggering very different emotional responses. The former threat the latter safety and reward.
Our ability to judge our competencies, abilities and thus worth within a group or to others determines our significance and by consequence our value. If we are of value we remain included. If we provide no important contribution we represent a drain on resources and human history dictates that we would likely be excluded. Additionally, being able to assign skills helped us early
humans establish roles and responsibilities efficiently, ensuring the survival of the group as a whole. So the need to analyze our position remains with us and once we understand and sense
our fit we are neurologically rewarded because this represents, to our brains, safety.
The challenge comes when this seeking of external validation starts to form our own internal representation of self-worth. This is especially acute for young people who seek continual approval from peers aided and abetted by social media. How many friends do I show the world I have?, how many ‘likes’ to every comment I make?, and what perfect identity do I extend into the ether of the internet that I’m unable to uphold? These external views can establish self-beliefs – ugly, popular, clever, stupid, beautiful… every one self-limiting.
We can shout about our relative position in the world through loud brands, material goods, large cars all of which assume a place of ‘I have more’ and somewhere in there presumably a need to say ‘and you have less’. And, we often let our need to make our significance known in meetings and conversations through forcing our views – however professionally we say it we know when we are doing it. It can feel uncomfortable when another questions our words and if we don’t checkin with ourselves we can let our ego’s take the better of us, desperately trying to fulfil our need for recognition.
Conflicts happen most often because of our own defences. When our brains sense a threat to our significance our ego can take over. Conversations become competitions rather than spaces to learn from others. We try to be the first, last or best person to speak.
Self-worth and identity is within us. It is wonderful when we receive external validation but when we don’t it doesn’t mean our own value is invalid. If we can see each conversation as a chance to be amazed, to learn and to share knowledge when asked or appropriate not only will the threat of diminished significance be abated, but connection will be smoother and decisions quicker. It may be a cheesy line but perhaps we should focus on dropping the ‘e’ and letting it ‘go’.