You might ask yourself, “Why should I bother knowing my self-concept?” “What does that have to do with my being an effective telecommunicator?” These are legitimate questions because you want to acquire specific skills to help you with interpersonal communications in your professional field. But, as you have seen in chapter 1, interpersonal communications does not include just the application of a set of responses to various situations. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional, physiological, and psychological noise from the other person but you have to cognizant of your own responses which are triggered by your own background, experiences, and emotional triggers.
The self-concept, which all of us develop over the course of our lives, shapes our responses to others. We are what we have experienced! We are what we have been told we are! These are important concepts to remember. Although our self-concepts resist change, it is possible to change it in order to have more effective communication skills. If, for example, you have always thought of yourself as capable and efficient in performing your duties, it will be upsetting to be told that your supervisors do not see it that way. You will have to set your self-concept aside, look at yourself realistically, and decide what changes you will have to make to your self-concept to satisfy job expectations. You may have to learn new skills, acquire new information, or change methods.
Our self-concept is also influenced by our culture. Western cultures are highly individualistic (e.g.; the individual is more important to Western culture than is the collective group). Other cultures—most Asian ones—place the collective needs (what benefits society as a whole) over those of the individual. This becomes very important when dealing with situations where quick information is needed and responses are not as direct and as assertive as we are used to receiving. In a culture where assertiveness is considered shameful, it takes a lot of patience and insight for the telecommunicator to be effective when receiving and processing needed information.
Another important aspect of the self-concept and what makes it so powerful is that it does not only influence how you see yourself now, but it can influence your (and other people’s) future behavior. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when your self-concept tells you can’t do something. Generally, if you tell yourself that, you won’t be able to do the required task. Telling a child, a student, a spouse, etc., that they can’t do something will over time change those persons’ self-concept and they will experience self-fulfilling prophecies. This is why coaches always give pep talks. As little children, we have all read about the little engine that could. Self-perception will lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. If you tell yourself that you can not handle that call or situation, you may forget all your training and stumble for the correct response or waste precious time “psyching” yourself up to the task.
How can you change the self-concept? Realistic expectations, willingness to change, and learning skills for change are the tools to improve your self-concept. Your text gives you a number of models to help with the task.
If we want to talk about how we present ourselves to others, we use the term identifying management. As telecommunicators, you know that by following your training manuals and your SOPs in a variety of situations, you will be perceived as competent, levelheaded, and efficient. At home, you present a more personal and less structured identity than the one you have at work. Although it may seem manipulative, identity management is simply adjusting yourself for varied situations according to standard social rules and conventions.
With identity management comes self-monitoring. This simply means that you make sure that your presenting self fits the situation or surroundings. However, people run the risk of being perceived of deceit or as having lost all true self-identity.