Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Expressions of self-esteem

Let us consider you saying to your colleagues: “I am likely the best Java programmer in this company.”Presume for now that your statement is correct. Discuss the following questions:
  • How would your colleagues probably react to such a statement of yours?
  • Is their expected (positive or negative) reaction the local cultural habit in your company or is it a wider position common for people in your country?
  • If your opinion is opposite to the common view, what makes you certain about the rightness of your position?
If I were to stand amongst a group of my colleagues and announce to them "I am likely the best Java programmer in this company" then I would expect a pretty negative response.

There are a number of contexts in which my outburst should be viewed before deciding why I received this negativity. The first of these is to consider the attitudes of my peers towards me. If I am not very close to them personally - if I am a newcomer, or if I have worked with them for years but never really got to know them (I suffer from the latter) then my statement will only reinforce in their minds why we are quite so distant. If this is the case I could expect to be ignored, or challenged aggressively by a more established member of the pack. On the other hand if I am pretty close to my colleagues then my statement is still likely to be received negatively but the response will come with an understanding and a willing to either forget it or forgive it - "that's just Mark being himself".

The manner in which I communicated the statement is incredibly important in understanding how it is received by others. The tone of delivery should be looked at. I could put the opinion forward very seriously, leaving others in no doubt that I mean what I say. I could put it forward obviously jokingly, or obviously sarcastically (this would be if I had never programmed anything in Java before in my life, which is actually true). The differences in these - and other - types of delivery are often subtle and can be easily misinterpreted by someone who is not used to it. Sarcasm, I think, is a particularly British trait. "Both nations [Britain and the USA] liked positive humour, but only the British appreciated sarcasm" (Hamilton, 2008). I have stayed with a family in Canada and my habit of saying that something is especially wonderful when in reality it is not is met with "are you kidding"; a lady from Norway that I used to share a flat with at University had lived in Britain for a number of years and was tuned in to my British brand of humour (and Fawlty Towers). These differences in misinterpretation can easily mean that my statement is misconstrued.

Non - verbal communication will also determine the way that my message is decoded. This will be done sub-conciously by my colleagues but will have an influence on how they react. An open stance that shows I am not trying to hide anything coupled with eye contact will make people more likely to believe what I am saying, but putting the message across with my arms folded or while I am jigging around or looking at the floor will probably make my colleagues take the information with a pinch of salt.

The external influences to my message may also come to bear. For example, there may be competition for jobs among Java programmers - say that two positions are going to be made redundant and the management have yet to announce who will be axed. If the statement is true then one could probably conclude that the company is unlikely to get rid of its best programmer. In this case my statement will cause angst among my colleagues who are less secure about their future. Alternatively, there could be a rumour going around that the company is outsourcing all its Java development to a company in India - a rumour I may not have heard about. My statement may make people feel amused or superior (or upset to lose me) because they know that I am unlikely to be in the office for much longer.

There are a wide range of reasons as to why a statement is interpreted by others in one way or another; just taking the content of the statement is not enough to reason why.


Hamilton, A (2008) Brits are glad to be grumpy, but the Americans are not amused [Online] London: Times Newspapers Ltd.
Available from (Accessed 19th March 2008)

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