Help your teammates navigate moments of self-doubt

Originally posted Jan 4, 2022

This post originally appeared on Lead Dev.

I watch these folks – who I’ve seen successfully navigate challenging workplace dilemmas, surprising and awful conversations, difficult feedback, and so much more – wrestle with a shaken foundation.

If you have a teammate coming to you questioning their worth and effectiveness, or your spidey sense gives you a clue that their self-confidence is feeling challenged, I want to equip you with a framework that will help this teammate recognize their successes and impact.

First, I just want to normalize these moments of inner doubt. Significance, one of our six core needs at work (see Paloma Medina’s BICEPS framework for more) represents our need to feel like our work has impact and that our impactful work is visible and recognized by others. Medina’s framework tells us that while everyone has these same six needs, the importance or weight we place on any one need varies at different moments in our careers, and certainly varies from one person to another.

So, when someone is coming to you worried or concerned they’re not successful, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, consider that their Significance need is having its moment, and needs some tending.

Your initial instinct, like mine, may be to reel off the list of achievements. When my clients come to me with concerns about their effectiveness as a manager, I feel tremendously lucky to be their coach because I’m already in their corner, ready to hold up all of this data that contradicts their negative inner monologue.

Many folks have a hard time absorbing positive feedback, especially if it’s general instead of specific. ‘You’re doing a great job!’ rarely makes anyone truly feel better. So on the coaching call, I’ll take the opportunity to point out particular leadership skills this person exhibits, the achievements they’ve nailed, values and intentions they carry, and the effects they’ve had on those around them.

But in addition to giving them this specific, positive feedback, we have an opportunity to help this person look in the mirror at their true selves, which is far more powerful than anything you or I can say. We want our teammates to truly feel their worth. And for that, I recommend you start incorporating coaching questions.

Open questions can help your teammate realize, recognize, and internalize their own skills and impact. You can spend time asking them these questions in a 1:1. Here are some of my favorites:

You can find more questions like these in my leadership self-evaluation article and year-end reflection post. Use any of these to bolster your coaching conversation with your teammate.

If your teammate prefers to process and introspect privately, you can send them these questions to think through on their own. I recommend folks block out 20 minutes of focus for reflective time with an exercise like this. Invite them to share any new lightbulb moments with you the next time you meet.

Last but not least, please don’t worry about leading your teammate down a particular path of realization. Sure, you can hold up that metaphorical mirror for your teammate and tell them what you see. But the simple act of helping them reflect on what they see is incredibly powerful, too.

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Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.

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