• Tony Richards

How To Process and Take Action When Team Members Self-Deprecate



In most cases, there is no way you, as a manager, can be harder on one of your team members than they can be on themselves. Your perspective is always important as far as they are concerned, but your perspective on them is not as important as their perspective on themselves. I have seen executive leaders of all kinds rush to try and contradict a team member's spoken self-deprecating statement. It happens almost as quickly as a baseball play at first base! Bam! Bam! Many times, this auto-response short-circuits the growth of the team member when we rush to comfort them or contradict their self-criticisms.


Now, why do leaders practice bullying on themselves?

  • We do not fully understand the power of words spoken negatively about ourselves.

  • We discount self-accusation in any form and how much it dilutes our own potential.

  • Sometimes putting themselves down is simply a ploy for sympathy. It is a way to put the focus on themselves and garner those correction statements we are so eager to give out.

  • The "Imposter Syndrome" has them gripped very tightly. They are convinced they are a "poser" and they are going to reveal their true identity before someone else does. This is a very common one. I bet at least two people you work with very closely have imposter syndrome.

  • They are trying very hard to lower the accountability expectations we have of them.


These are just a few of the reasons people intentionally put themselves down. So, I have a serious challenge for you as a leader:


Have enough respect for them to take them seriously when they put themselves down.


Follow up with questions, such as "What makes you say that?" followed by "What would you like to do about that?" When you, as the leader, take your team members seriously, they take themselves seriously. Now, to let you in on something you need to know, if they are doing this for attention or for manipulation of some kind, they will be shocked you asked them a serious question or two. Manipulators are always shocked when you take them seriously. You want to practice inquiry questions rather than making contradictory statements to their own negative ones.


For example:


What aspect of this about yourself are you thinking about? Can you give me an example?

What would you like to try to improve this view of yourself?

What might be true of you if you improved that aspect about yourself?

What are some reasons you would want to improve this about yourself?

What is something you could try before our next conversation about this that could really help you in this area?


You will quickly know whether this person is willing to take themselves seriously enough to improve or whether it's simply a tactic for distraction from the real issue. A big part of your role as the leader in 1-on-1 meetings and staff meetings is to make sure you get to the real issues of everything, even those negative self-perceptions of your team members.

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