Your need to feel competent and relevant

by | Oct 12, 2023

In most of our training and consulting programs, we use one of our favorite mantras: everyone wants to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. After years of training and consulting, we’ve added another component: feeling relevant and competent. So I now amend that mantra to… everyone wants to be seen, heard, acknowledged AND feel relevant and competent.

Someone can be seen, heard, and acknowledged, but if they don’t feel like a relevant part of the situation, group, team, department, or the organization, they are not going to be a happy camper.

Competent, of course, means that you feel and believe that others perceive you as good at what you do, that you’re reliable, that you get things done.

Relevant means you’re important, you matter. How much of the tragedies we witness stems from someone feeling a lack of competence or relevance? If bullies in the schoolyard or in the boardroom don’t feel they’re relevant, they are going to act out so at least they FEEL relevant, even though probably deep down inside they don’t.

You can identify when someone is maybe not feeling competent or relevant and is instead blustering to cover it up by interrupting, being the class clown, proving how right they are all the time, or responding with a “Hey, that happened to me too” example.

It’s as if this need to feel competent and relevant makes us bust into the scene or into the conversation with a “pay attention to me” outburst.

There are two sides of this issue to focus on. One is internal and individual… being self-aware of the tendency (that we all have) to prove how competent and relevant we are.

Let’s start with counteracting that need to proclaim to the world how competent and relevant we are. First, be quiet. Try to listen more than you talk. Listen to understand, not to just respond (active listening).

You’ve heard the saying, there’s a reason why we have one mouth and two ears; it’s to listen more than we talk. Being self-aware means you notice those tendencies, those thoughts, those inclinations that you want to act on right now.

The self management part of emotional intelligence means you add a bit of logic, empathy, and, of course, emotional intelligence. So when you notice there’s something that you want to say or to add to a conversation, take a half second and think about if it really adds to the conversation, or is it just a way for you to prove your relevance?

The other side of the competent/relevant coin is external and other-focused…. being empathetic, gracious human beings who understand that others also have that need to feel competent and relevant.

Again, bringing emotional intelligence into the mix, if you are aware of others (social awareness), you can work on your ability to manage the relationship with them (social management). First, slow down your natural inclination to judge and then act on that judgment. If someone is “acting out,” could the reason be because they have a need to feel competent and relevant?

It’s the dance between self-management and social management… “Here’s what’s going on inside of me and how I want to act” fluctuating with “Here’s what this person is doing, here’s how I want to act as a result, and I have to figure out if it’s about me or the other person.”

(It’s a little hard to verbalize what goes on inside our brains and emotions in micro-seconds, so if the above sounds a little clunky, it’s because I’m trying to use a linear medium – writing and reading – to convey something that is not linear!)

Bottom line: understand what basic, primal needs are driving your actions, and be aware that others may have similar needs that are driving their actions.


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