Women in particular can often struggle with self-confidence issues in the workplace – undoubtedly not helped by all the issues we face in getting to the top and staying there. So in the spirit of “why let the guys have all the fun?” here is my 5 step plan to start building your self-confidence. I’m not going to lie, some of it is going to be uncomfortable, and you will, on occasion, cringe… but it’ll be worth it, I promise! (Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, this is mainly based on my own experience. Just so you know.)
Step 1: Understand your strengths
If your confidence has taken a knock, it’s important to step back and honestly assess what you’re good at. Get a pen and paper and spend ten minutes jotting down your thoughts. This might include answers to questions like:
What skills, experience and qualifications do you have?
What aspects of your working life have you really enjoyed?
What is your biggest achievement?
If you find this hard and are struggling to think of things, then get some help. Ask your friends what they value about you, re-read past performance reviews, and try to identify times when you have done something well. You’ll be surprised to learn how others see you, and how things you take for granted about yourself are highly valued by someone else.
Step 2: Think about your values
Self-confidence can come from having clarity on what you value and what you want to achieve. Often we are knocked by other people’s perceptions of us, but the only one who really matters is you. Do you value time with your family more than your job title? Well, that’s OK! Do you want that next big promotion? That’s OK too! What matters is that you are clear in your own head about your goals and values, and that these are what shape your decisions. If you decide you want a better work/life balance, then what does it matter what your job title is or what car you drive? You are focussing on doing what YOU want.
Step 3: Kill the inner critic
We all suffer from that voice in our heads telling us we’re not good enough, or we are faking it and about to be found out. But research shows the value in challenging those thoughts. Think of your brain as a muscle; you have learned over the years to overdevelop the “self-critical” muscle, but the good news is that this isn’t irreversible. Just as you can go to the gym and work on a specific area, so you can with your mind.
This is hard, but what I find helps is that every time I hear that critical voice in my head, I write down what it’s saying and then I ask myself “What would I say if a friend told me this about herself?”. Of course, you’d be horrified, you’d offer them lots of positivity, you’d tell them no one else sees what they see. So treat yourself as you would treat your best friend. Write it down, and then tell yourself some positives to offset it. For me it’s always about body image – “I’ve put on weight, I feel ugly” – so I write it down, imagine one of my friends saying it to me, and then tell myself what I would tell them, “You look amazing, and you are worth so much more than your body.” It helps to say it out loud. (I told you there would be some cringey stuff, this is it!). By doing this, you are creating new pathways in your mind so that the next negative thought you had finds it harder to emerge (like I said, not a scientist, so maybe check the resources below if you want a better explanation of this). Over time, this will get easier, I promise.
Step 4: Set yourself small challenges
If you struggle with social situations there are ways around this, you just need to start small. If networking fills you with horror – and let’s be honest, it really does for most people – then choose an event where you can take a friend. But agree beforehand that you will not both skulk in the corner clutching a glass of wine. Make it your mission to talk to at least one new person each. Generally – and this is really important to remember – people standing on their own feel just as awkward and self-conscious as you do, so identify someone who is alone, go over and introduce yourself, maybe make a joke about how hideous networking events are, and ask a few questions – what do they do, what brought them along to the event, what did they hope to get out of it. And if this dries up, don’t panic. Just say “It was great meeting you, have a lovely evening” and retreat gracefully back to your friend to recount your adventures. It’s important to remember two things: you don’t need to make friends for life, you just need to put yourself out there a bit; and, even if it is a stilted conversation, you made the move and approached someone, so you should be proud. The next time, you may feel you can approach a few more people, or that you can go along alone. But start small and build on each little success.
Step 5: Make a plan
Building on all of this, decide where you want to be in a few months, a year, or whatever feels comfortable for you, and set some goals that will help you get there. Then every week check in against this. If you have taken a knock, look at what you’re trying to achieve and put it in context – OK so that meeting didn’t go so well, but really, does it alter your direction of travel? Probably not, there will always be other opportunities. So, have a glass of wine, laugh at yourself, and then remind yourself of what you are aiming for and get back on track.
Like I said, this stuff isn’t easy, but if it was everyone would be doing it, right? I mean, I can talk a good game but I struggle with all of this, just like everyone else. I just refuse to be defeated! So, yes, sometimes I come back from a networking event having failed to talk to anyone. Sometimes I come back having drunk too much in a misguided attempt at Dutch courage and probably therefore talked too much, and not in a good way. But sometimes I come back having had a really lovely chat with someone, or having made a new contact. And that feels really really good. So next time I try to channel that feeling and do my best to repeat the experience, and over time, I hope to keep getting better at it.
So for what it’s worth, that’s the Wisdom of Nancy. I hope it helps! Go forth and kick ass.
If you need some support on this journey, executive coaching can help. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.
We by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel. A manifesto for women, with lots on being kinder to yourself and the benefits this will bring. And if you think my suggestions are cringey, this goes to another level. But hey, if it’s good enough for DSI Stella Gibson then it’s good enough for me. https://www.wewomeneverywhere.org/
Frazzled by Ruby Wax. Funny, honest and with some really practical ways to help yourself beat the negative thoughts. Frazzled - RubyWax.net
7 Ways Mindfulness can Change the Brain A good overview of some of the science behind re-training thebrain, written for the layperson (ie me)
And…if all else fails, then fake it till you make it. This link shows you how.