Personal empowerment is about looking at who you are and becoming more aware of yourself as a unique individual.
Personal empowerment involves developing the confidence and strength to set realistic goals and fulfil your potential. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and a range of skills that are used in everyday situations, but all too often people remain unaware of, or undervalue, their true abilities.
A person aiming for empowerment is able to take control of their life by making positive choices and setting goals. Developing self-awareness, an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses - knowing your own limitations is key to personal empowerment.
Taking steps to set and achieve goals - both short and longer-term and developing new skills, acts to increase confidence which, in itself, is essential to self-empowerment.
‘Personal Empowerment’ and ‘Personal Development’ are two areas that overlap and interweave, it is recommended that you read this page in conjunction with our page: Personal Development.
What is Personal Empowerment?
At a basic level, the term 'empowerment' simply means 'becoming powerful'. Building personal empowerment involves reflecting on our personal values, skills and goals and being prepared to adjust our behaviour in order to achieve our goals. Personal empowerment also means being aware that other people have their own set of values and goals which may different to ours.
Many other, more detailed, definitions exist. These usually centre on the idea that personal empowerment gives an individual the ability to:
- Take control of their circumstances and achieve their own goals in their personal and working life.
- Become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and therefore be better equipped to deal with problems and achieve goals.
- Enhance the contribution they make both as an individual and as a member of a team.
- Take opportunities to enhance personal growth and a sense of fulfilment.
Developing personal empowerment usually involves making some fundamental changes in life, which is not always an easy process. The degree of change required will differ from person to person, depending on the individual starting point.
Dimensions of Personal Empowerment
The following ‘dimensions of personal empowerment’ are based on the belief that the greater the range of coping responses an individual develops, the greater their chance of coping effectively with diverse life situations. These dimensions are:
Self-awareness involves understanding our individual character and how we are likely to respond to situations. This enables us to build on our positive qualities and be aware of any negative traits which may reduce our effectiveness. Self-aware people make conscious decisions to enhance their lives whenever possible, learning from past experiences.
Values are opinions or beliefs that are important to us but of which we are not always aware. They can be any kind of belief or perceived obligation, anything we prefer and for any reason. The reasons we may prefer one thing over another, or choose one course of action over another, may not always be obvious or known; there may be no apparent reason for our values. Nevertheless our values are important to us as individuals. In order to be self-aware it is necessary to be aware of our values, to critically examine them and to accept that our values may be different from those of others.
An individual's skills are the main resource which enables them to achieve their desired goals. Skills can be gained through experience, practice, education and training. It is only by developing such skills that individual values can be translated into action.
Knowledge or information is necessary in the development of self-awareness and skills. It is an essential skill in itself to know where to find appropriate information. Without information, the choices open to people are limited, both in their personal and working lives. The internet has provided an easy way for everybody to access huge amounts of information very quickly and easily. The problem is then centred around the quality of the information found, and the skill set is concerned with finding accurate and reliable information.
Setting goals is a means by which an individual can take charge of his/her life. The process of setting a goal involves people thinking about their values and the direction that they would like their lives to follow. Choices are made through reflection followed by action. Goals should always be both specific and realistic. Setting personal goals gives us a sense of direction in life, this direction is essential to personal empowerment.
Language and Empowerment
Language is the main medium of human communication whether used in spoken or written form.
The use of language, how individuals express themselves verbally and non-verbally to others, can be empowering to both themselves and the people with whom they are communicating. Looking at how language is used is important in terms of self-empowerment and when attempting to empower other people.
The Use of Language for Personal Empowerment
In terms of personal empowerment and communication the following ideas are helpful and their use can be both self-affirming and positive:
- Use Positive Language: Research into language suggests that a person's self-image is reflected in the words that they use. For example, people who say they 'should' behave in a certain way implies passivity and can detract from them seeming to be in control and taking responsibility for their actions. Talking about yourself in a positive way, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, can be empowering.
- Use Active Language: Use terms which imply positive action rather than making vague statements, particularly when talking about the future. For example, 'I will...' and 'I can...'.
- Use Words to Define Your Own Space and Identity: If you fail to use words to define your own space and identity then others will tend to define you and set standards by which you evaluate yourself. Furthermore, they will try to persuade you to conform to their demands. Be clear about who you are and what your values and goals are – do not let others define you.
The Use of Language for Empowering Others
In order to use language to help empower others:
- Do not use jargon or complex terminology: The use of jargon and complex terminology can be both alienating and dis-empowering. When working with others the use of jargon can create feelings of intimidation and inferiority. Without shared understanding of the words you use, effective and empowering communication cannot take place. Choose words with care, which give clarity to what you are trying to express.
- Focus on the words people use: Mirror words people use, see our pages: Reflection and Clarification for more information. Using shared terminology appropriately can enable you appear more ‘in tune’ with the other person and what they are saying.
- Choose positive words: Choosing positive or active words such as 'will' or 'can' indicates that you have control in your life and is more likely to induce positive action in others. Compare the use of these words with others such as ‘might' or 'maybe' which suggest hesitancy. Using words and statements which carry responsibility are empowering as they suggest a determined rather than a passive approach.
- Avoid criticism and negativity: Criticism should always be given with extreme care and only when absolutely necessary. Once words have been spoken they cannot be easily taken back. If criticism is necessary then it can be given in a constructive way, through the use of positive and supporting words and phrases. Always attempt to cushion criticism with positive observations.
- Use open questions when appropriate: The use of closed questions will restrict responses to 'yes' and 'no' answers. This type of question can leave people feeling powerless because there is no opportunity to explain their response. On the other hand, open questions give the person being asked the chance to explore the reasons behind their answers. Open questions encourage a person to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and can therefore aid empowerment. Open questions can also help people to solve problems through their own devices, help them to set their own goals and work out an appropriate plan of action. See our pages: Questioning and Question Types for more information.
We all have opportunities to explore and develop new skills. In order to become more empowered we can, in our interactions with others, aim to:
- Develop trust.
- Understand our strengths, weaknesses and limits.
- Develop confidence and self-esteem.
Developing trust can be a difficult and lengthy process. In order to develop trust with others you may choose to:
- Be Open: In the sharing of information, ideas and thoughts. When appropriate also sharing emotions, feelings and reactions. Also aim to reciprocate appropriately, when somebody shares their emotions, thoughts or feelings with you.
- Share and Co-operate: Share resources and knowledge with others to help them to achieve their goals. Work together towards mutual goals.
- Be Trustworthy: When other people place their trust in you, do your best to provide positive outcomes.
- Be Accepting: Hold the values and views of others in high regard.
- Be Supportive: Support others when necessary but also recognise their strengths - allowing them to work towards goals without your intervention as appropriate.
In the workplace, and in any professional working relationship there are three basic components of trust:
- Trust in the integrity and goodwill between all workers, regardless of salary or status and whether paid or unpaid.
- Trust that all workers within an organisation share the same objectives and are open with each other about any conflicting objectives.
- Trust in each other's competence and to do what you promise to undertake.
Trust can be broken very quickly and may never be restored to its former level. Think about the points above and try to build and maintain trusting relationships in both your personal and professional life.
Avoid the following actions that may destroy trust and have a detrimental effect on personal empowerment:
- Making a joke at another’s expense.
- Being judgemental about another’s behaviour, attitudes or beliefs.
- Communicating rejection or non-acceptance, either verbally or non-verbally.
See our page on Trustworthiness and Conscientiousness for more information.
Understanding Your Strengths, Weaknesses and Limits
Becoming empowered includes knowing your own strengths and weaknesses: identifying these will enable you to work on improving your weaknesses and build on your strengths.
It is not uncommon for other people to have misjudged your strengths and weaknesses, or for you to misjudge those of others. This can lead to opportunities being limited due to the misconception of abilities. It is important, therefore, to know your own strengths and weaknesses and to communicate them clearly to others, whilst encouraging others to communicate their strengths and weaknesses to you.
In some circumstances you may feel that you face problems that are truly beyond your capabilities. In such cases you should seek help. Empowered people know their own limits and have no problems with asking for help or guidance. Self-knowledge, often referred to as self-awareness, is a strength which enables you to set personal improvement goals in order to make a more substantial contribution. The more empowered you become, the more you will be able to help others to become empowered.
Confidence acts as one of the greatest motivators or most powerful limitations to anyone trying to change their behaviour and become more empowered.
Most people only undertake tasks that they feel capable of doing and it takes great effort to overcome a lack of confidence in one's capabilities. Self-empowerment involves people constantly challenging their own beliefs and what they are capable of undertaking.
Personal empowerment is not a static thing that you can do once in your life.
You should view personal empowerment as ongoing personal development. As circumstances change and develop, and as we ourselves change and develop, so do our needs for development and empowerment.