1. Relational Self
Internalizing the relational self at work
The relational self-affirmation process involves individuals collecting narratives about times they contributed positively to others, thus capitalizing on their pre-existing personal network of relationships. Whereas much of the research in this area has focused on the self-centered process of affirmation (e.g., reflecting on one’s core values), the contribution narratives that individuals collect from others can enable them to reflect on how they influence others. My research shows that the process of relational self-affirmation can improve employment relationships and team performance, as well as individual health and stress resilience.
It may be possible to offer people a new understanding of their best-self concepts, leading to positive personal and social change. We developed theory about how best-self activation can lead to both immediate and long-term outcomes through recursion, interaction, and subjective construal between the self concept and the social system. In two lab experiments and a field experiment in a global consulting firm, we tested the hypotheses by offering people reflections on times they were at their best. Results confirmed that best-self activation inspired improvements in people’s emotions, resistance to disease, resilience to stress and burnout, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and relationships with their employer. Results also revealed that best-self activations are more effective in creating improvements when they feature information from one’s social network rather than personal reflections.
Working in teams often leads to productivity loss because the need to feel accepted prevents individual members from making a unique contribution to the team in terms of the information or perspective they can offer. Drawing on self-affirmation theory, we propose that pre-team relational self-affirmation can prepare individuals to contribute to team creative performance more effectively. We theorize that relationally-affirming one’s self-views increases general feelings of being socially valued by others, leading to better information exchange and creative performance. In a first study, we found that teams in which members affirmed their best selves prior to team formation (i.e., by soliciting and receiving narratives that highlight one’s positive impact on close others) outperformed teams that did not do so on a creative problem-solving task. In the second experiment, conducted using virtual teams, we show that pre-team relational self-affirmation leads to heightened feelings of social worth, which in turn explains the effect of the treatment on the team’s ability to exchange information.
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