Interpersonal Communication: Self-esteem and Self-concept
From your letter, I have noticed that you want to become more social, but you do not know how to do it. You write that you are not afraid of talking to your customers when you are at work — however, you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable when you enter the store as a customer. I have also noticed that you mentioned having a fear of talking to people you do not know. Your main problem is that you can not share your thoughts with other individuals, especially those you meet for the first time. I am glad to hear that you want to improve this situation and understand why you behave like this. I will try to help you with your fear of communication and delivery of your thoughts to other people, addressing such theories and concepts as self-concept, self-disclosure, perception, and developmental model. To conquer your fear of being vocal, you should develop your self-concept and improve your self-esteem.
After reading your letter, I realized that you have some problems with your self-concept. On the one hand, you seem to have a collectivistic way of thinking when you are in your comfort zone, such as your workplace, for example. Thus, you perceive your customers as people who need your help, and you put their interests above your own. You become a part of the community, and you feel your importance not as an individual, but as a part of this community. Such attitude shapes an individualistic aspect of your self-concept, and you can not understand how you are “separate and different from others” (Oyserman et al. 71). At the same time, not only your perception of yourself changes but also your perception of others. At work, you feel power distance, because your position is higher than that of your customers since they need your advice (Adler et al. 100). However, when you are in a real-life setting, where you have to communicate with people who do not need your professional help, you become confused because you do not know your place there. Thus, your self-esteem lowers, and you are afraid of expressing your thoughts freely. Probably, when you were a child, you once failed to succeed in expressing your thoughts, and your self-esteem suffered. Although you say that you were a social child, maybe something happened in your community or in a new community you had to enter, and it became a subconscious reason that can explain your unsociable behavior today. You should try and remember what has stimulated your fear of communication with strangers in your past in order to be able to overcome this problem in the present.
Reflected appraisal and social comparison might also affect your self-concept and self-esteem. There should have been a person or people who were very significant to you, and whose evaluations of you were especially important (Adler et al.). They might be your parents, grandparents, teachers, or other people you love and whose opinion you value and respect. You should consider whether some of these people have ever said something negative about your way of communication or expressing your thoughts. You were probably criticized or told that you should keep silent in the presence of strangers, and these words have affected your self-concept. However, if you can not remember such events, maybe a social comparison played its part.
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When you were a child, you played with those children who shared your interests, and all of you were equal in these games. Today, all of your friends are adults, and their interests and social statuses have changed. While communicating with your customers, you feel that you are in a suitable reference group and on the same social level as them. However, when you enter a new community, you do not know their social statuses and might be afraid of being judged for your appearance, way of speaking, or even non-verbal communication. You compare yourself to these new people and can not find a subject for conversation, thus remaining silent and confused. In such situations, you should try to remember that people do not always judge each other by social statuses or appearance and that each person has a chance to gain attention with the help of successful communication. Therefore, you should try to improve your self-esteem, surrounding yourself only with those individuals who really appreciate and encourage you. Besides, you should read more to enlarge your worldview and be ready to discuss different subjects with new people you meet. In addition, you should have realistic expectations about your interpersonal communication and be prepared even for the worse results. In such a way, you will not be too disappointed in the case of initial failure, and the process of establishing new relationships will be less painful for you.
Self-disclosure is another important concept of interpersonal communication. While applying this concept to your letter, I have discovered that you might be afraid of revealing your personal information to other, mostly unknown people. It means that the concept of your self-disclosure is rather limited. To help you disclose yourself, it is important to introduce you to two models of self-disclosure: the social penetration model and the Johari Window model (Adler et al.). The first model deals with breadth and depth of disclosure, while the second one describes the aspects you know about yourself and those aspects the other people know (Adler et al.). From your letter, it is evident that the breadth of your communication is not a problem. On the contrary, you say that you can discuss various themes when you perform the role of someone, but when you try to be yourself, it does not happen. Thus, you have problems with expressing your feelings and the most intimate subjects which are related to your own personality, but not to someone else’s. Probably, you are not willing to hear feedback about yourself, or you are afraid of being hurt by the other person. According to the Johari Window model, both blind and hidden areas are of high importance in regard to self-disclosure. If you know something about yourself and want to hide this information from the others, you keep silent. The same happens if you do not want to hear something about yourself the others know, but you do not, because you may have a fear of being criticized. Therefore, the only recommendation for you is to accept and try to disclose yourself to others despite any fears and prejudices. It is always hard to make the first step, but the outcomes will be beneficial.
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The perception of people and the world influences the way of communication as well. Wood claims that girls’ and boys’ games “cultivate distinct understandings of communication and the rules by which it operates” (20). Thus, boys and girls perceive the world and communication differently, which later leads to differences in the perception of adulthood. As I can see from your letter, you used to speak about sports and school as a child, and it was easy for you because all your friends had a similar perception of these subjects. Today, however, you notice that adult people perceive the world and even sports differently, and you find it difficult to express your opinion on any subject. It happens because you might assume that your interlocutors do not share the same experiences with you, and you are afraid that it might prevent you from a successful conversation. Thus, past experience and your expectations of the interlocutor are of high importance for your communication process. I would recommend that you perceive this process as an easy one and try to forget about your past negative experience in communication. In such a way you will be able to perceive a person as a new possibility to show yourself and even accept some critique if needed.
A Developmental Model of Relationships
To help you develop your interpersonal relationships, I would like to tell you about the developmental model and its main stages. This model was developed by Mark Knapp and it includes the following stages: initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, bonding, differentiating, circumscribing, stagnating, avoiding, and terminating (Adler et al. 267). It seems that you are on the stage of Avoiding when you enter a new community, though you should be on the stage of initiating. I would recommend that you have some pre-planned topics and learn some anecdotes in order to initiate the conversation and show yourself. It will be beneficial if you share some memories from your childhood to attract the interlocutors and show them that you trust them and want to continue your conversation. Experimenting would also bring positive results. These two stages are the main goal for your future conversations with unknown people. They will help you find your true voice and share it with other individuals without being afraid. Finally, all you need is to believe in yourself and stop playing the roles of someone else, and eventually, you will enjoy speaking to new people.
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Close analysis of your open letter helped me understand that you have a fear of communication because of some problems with self-esteem and self-concept. To avoid such problems in the future, you should try to refrain from comparing yourself to others and accept all the shortcomings you think you have. Furthermore, you should try to disclose yourself and be ready to acknowledge critique. When you are ready to accept some feedback about yourself, it will be easier for you to start a conversation. In addition, you should comprehend that your perception of the world and people around you is shaped by past experiences and expectations. Thus, when beginning a new conversation, you should try to ignore this negative experience and perceive a new person as a good possibility to find your true self. Finally, the stages of initiating and experimenting should become your first stages in any conversation. Therefore, having some pre-planned topics along with some childhood stories will help you begin the talk and gain the interlocutor’s favor. I hope my recommendations will be useful and that you will conquer your fear of communicating with strangers.