I can remember my parents telling me that I could do or be anything I wanted. I am sure many of you have heard that statement as well, but do we really take it seriously? What is it that even at a young age sows the seeds of doubt and prevents us from pursuing our dreams? Of course there may be a number of reasons but a key driver is our level of self-efficacy.
What is Self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy is a person’s judgement of their capabilities to perform a task, achieve a goal or reach a certain level of performance. It is your level of self-belief when you ask…..can I do this? Self-efficacy is the measure of one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. It is the crux of the hypothetical question….what would you do if you knew you could not fail?
High self-efficacy equals high performance but an individual can also simultaneously have high self-efficacy for one task (e.g. selling products) and low self-efficacy for another (e.g. public speaking). Self-efficacy relates generally to specific task and should not be confused with self-esteem (how you feel about yourself). As such, self-efficacy is easier to develop and is a better indicator of expected performance than self-esteem or self-confidence.
By building and developing self-efficacy we can improve our own performance and the performance of others. It allows us to set challenging goals with the realistic expectation of achieving them and to persist when faced with setbacks. Moreover, setbacks and hurdles can often stimulate individuals with high self-efficacy to put in even greater effort compared to individuals with low self-efficacy who tend to be discouraged and give up. Individuals with low self-efficacy and not confident in their ability may respond negatively to evidence that their performance needs to improve. In a way, low self-efficacy can be self perpetuating because negative outcomes are seen as confirming their own perception of incompetence. These individuals may in fact be quite talented but low self-efficacy prevents them from performing as well as they can and they avoid challenging task.
Experiencing and developing self-efficacy
There are four methods in which self-efficacy is experienced and developed.
Enactive self-efficacy – The experience of mastery is the most important factor determining a person’s self-efficacy. Success raises self-efficacy, while failure lowers it.
Social modelling - Modeling is experienced as, “If they can do it, I can do it as well.” When we see someone succeeding, our own self-efficacy increases; where we see people failing, our self-efficacy decreases. This process is most effectual when we see ourselves as similar to the model. Although not as influential as direct experience, modeling is particularly useful for people who are particularly unsure of themselves.
Social persuasion - Social persuasion generally manifests as direct encouragement or discouragement from another person. Discouragement is generally more effective at decreasing a person’s self-efficacy than encouragement is at increasing it.
Physiological/emotional state - In stressful situations, people commonly exhibit signs of distress: shakes, aches and pains, fatigue, fear, nausea, etc. Perceptions of these responses in oneself can markedly alter self-efficacy. Getting ‘butterflies in the stomach’ before public speaking will be interpreted by someone with low self-efficacy as a sign of inability, thus decreasing self-efficacy further, where high self-efficacy would lead to interpreting such physiological signs as normal and unrelated to ability. It is one’s belief in the implications of physiological response that alters self-efficacy, rather than the physiological response itself.
When communicating with individuals such as employees it is important that we don’t signal a lack of confidence in them thereby reinforcing low self-efficacy. We can do this by:
- Providing lavish praise for performance that the individual knows was poor or mediocre.
- Assigning the individual with easy or unchallenging task signalling our lack of confidence in them.
- Micro-managing the individual.
- Constantly offering the individual help and asking are they ok.
- Constantly fault-finding and criticising the individual.
We can build and develop self-efficacy in individuals by:
- Communicate clear objectives
- Provide feedback
- Allow individuals to participate and decide their goals
- Take a collaborating approach and seek feedback from individuals before making changes which impact them.
- Role-modelling and lead by example.
- Show enthusiasm and persistence.
- Provide opportunities to develop expertise and build self-efficacy.
- Listen and share experiences
- Make yourself always available – Open door policy.
- Communicate clear and exciting vision. Tell your story.
- Rewards can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Find out what the individual values.
- Support staff when they make mistakes. Praise their genuine efforts and achievements publicly.
Self-efficacy is a crucial factor in change, progress and achievement in our lives and an individual’s degree of self-efficacy is a motivational predictor in how they will perform at any level of endeavour. People with high self-efficacy think and behave different from those with low self efficacy. People, often with talent but who doubt their abilities avoid difficult and challenging task which impacts on their realisation of dreams. Failure, setbacks or negative feedback destroys their motivation leading them to give up which further reinforces their weak self-efficacy.
If you lead or manage people it is important to understand how important the development of self-efficacy is, not just for behavioural and cognitive functioning but also as a driver of high performance, living up to potential and achieving goals in one’s life.