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The Need for Esteem


Explanations > Needs > Esteem

What is it? | Esteem as reward | So what?


What is it?

Esteem basically is about self-esteem which is feeling good about ourselves. We can get such esteem in two ways. Internally, we can judge ourselves and find ourselves worthy by our own defined standards. Most people, however, start with the outside, seeking social approval and esteem from other people, judging themselves by what others think of them.

A basic Maslow need

Esteem is one of the more basic needs in Maslow's Hierarchy, where it comes above belonging. Once we belong to a group, we will then tend to set about climbing up the group hierarchy or maintaining our position in the group by seeking the esteem and approval of group members.

Beyond basic Maslow, there is a sequence of acknowledgement (recognizing the person), approval (evaluating the person) and acceptance before a person is admitted to a group and so achieve the need for belonging. With further approval they gain respect, esteem and consequent status, in which they gain power and consequent control.

Esteem is not binary

Whereas belonging is a fairly binary thing--you either belong or you do not--esteem can have a range of levels, from faint praise to adulation and raising the other person a position of virtual godhood. This makes it infinitely more flexible in the variable uses to which it is put. 

Esteem value depends on your esteem

The value of an esteeming action or word from someone else depends on who is 'esteeming' you. If you have high esteem for the person esteeming you, then you will value the esteem far more than if it came from someone you judge to be of no importance. Thus a word of praise from a senior manager in the company may be worth far more to your sense of self-esteem than if someone who works for you says 'Well done'.

Who you esteem will vary greatly. Some people have a very hierarchical view, valuing esteem directly in proportion to the place in the hierarchy of the esteeming individual. Others will value far more the esteem of peers (for example scientists and research engineers). 

Status and power

Status is a a broader effect of esteem and we seek this within the same category. When a person has status, they are widely recognized and are effectively given social power through the influence that is gained.

Status may be gained through basic admiration from others. It is also gained by position, such as when a person gets promoted within an organization.

Esteem as a reward

Esteem is often used as a reward. At a low level, I might thank you for passing the salt. A greater esteem reward might be a promotion or a 'lifelong achievement' award. Although money is useful, beyond a reasonable salary, many people are not strongly by cash incentives. Esteem, on the other hand, always plays a powerful role.

Rewards can be intrinsic or extrinsic, where they are perceive as being internal or external to the person. Esteem often acts as an intrinsic reward, and thus can be far more powerful than extrinsic rewards such as bonus payments or loyalty card points. Thus shops who clearly care about their customers will engender far more real loyalty than those who just give out loyalty points. 

So what?

Find out who the other person admires and get that second person to provide esteem to the individual as a reward for the behaviors you want the first person to exhibit. 

Alternatively, you can be the person providing the esteem. First get yourself into a person where your esteem is valued greatly, for example by conforming to group norms or by rationing your praise (using scarcity to make it more valuable). Then exchange esteem for the behaviors or actions that you want from them.

See also

Maslow's Hierarchy, Intrinsic Motivation

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