Photo: George Bohunicky
I often bristle at people who say women lack confidence in the workplace. Part me thinks its a thinly-veiled form of victim-shaming that puts all the blame of our patriarchal systems and structures on women themselves.
But there’s no denying it: being seen as someone who feels confident in their own skin is a big part of managing your image. And while there’s nothing wrong with being doubtful, too much self-doubt can hinder your ability to take risks, try new things, and grow.
So if cultivating confidence is something you’re working on now, here are 5 easy steps to start:
As Brad the boo always says, “practice how you want to play.”
Nobody is born feeling confident in their innate abilities. We all have to work hard to hone our craft, whether it’s public speaking, programming, or leading a team. So when you’re feeling that nervousness that comes with rising to the occasion and trying something new, the more hours you spend practicing and preparing, the more confident you’re going to feel when it’s game time.
I’ve spent the last 5 years really honing my craft as a public speaker, and it truly doesn’t look all that glamourous. Most of the time it’s just me, pacing back and forth, alone in my hotel room, standing in front of a mirror, and recording myself speaking. Then I’ll play back the tape, listen and watch for what’s working, and try again while eliminating what wasn’t.
Set aside dedicated time for focused preparation and you’ll feel so much more confident in whatever you’re tackling next.
2. Phone a friend
I was recently brought in to help a national firm with sexual harassment training. Now I’ve done a lot of training and development focused on gender at work in the past, but this particular subject matter was a stretch opportunity for me. So instead of subscribing to that “fake it ’till you make it” approach, that can sometimes leave you feeling a bit out of your league, I brought in a trusted friend, and fellow training and development expert. It’s not only better for me, but it’s in the best interest of my client to bring another person’s experience and background into this particular project.
When you’re expanding your own skillset, it doesn’t hurt to bring in some outside reinforcement. But youhave to take the initiative to seek out that kind of support. Whether it’s a phone call to a friend or colleague who’s been around the block before, or a more formal partnership with some one who can help deliver on your objectives, it’s important to remember we don’t need to go it alone.
And sometimes it’s as simple a phoning a friend for the pep talk you need to recognize that you already have what you need within you.
3. Dress the part
I used to be a bit fashion agnostic. I would rather focus on the substance of what I’m doing, I’d argue, than the style with which I’m doing it. But I was missing the point of dressing up. It’s not so much for others, but looking put together is more about how you feel about yourself.
I recently sat down with one of our Bossed Up Trainer Team members, Tiffany Ingram of the Policy & Fashion blog to talk through how to dress for work this fall on the Bossed Up blog. She reminded me that looking your best can help you feel your best, too.
When I’m having an off day, changing out of my yoga pants for a more polished and professional look gives me a boost of swagger that helps me bring my A-game to whatever the day calls for.
4. Power pose
Similarly, how I carry myself matters, too. Amy Cuddy pioneered research around ‘power poses’ that shows people feel more confident when they’re in an expansive body position. Sitting or standing tall, with your shoulders back and chin held high not only makes others see you as more powerful, it can make you see you as more powerful, too.
On the contrary, more closed-in, constricted body positions can leave you feeling less confident. Now this is a major when we think about how gender affects body position, too. As little girls, if we’re conditioned to shrink ourselves, cross our legs, and keep our hands folded in on ourselves, we’re feeding into a stereotype about femininity and powerlessness.
Take up more space, and ironically, you’ll start to feel more entitled to that space, too. So before your next big meeting, presentation, or interview, assume a high-power body position for at least 2 minutes (preferably in front of a mirror), and you’ll walk in with an extra kick of confidence.
5. Brainstorm a brag sheet
When you’re feeling anxious and unsure of yourself, a million reasons why you’re not cut out for the task at hand might be flooding through your mind.
“I’ve never done this before.”
“I’m such a fraud!”
“I’m not qualified.”
Take control over the voice in your head by focusing instead on the reasons why you are equipped to give this a try.
“I’ve been working on this project more closely than anyone!”
“I’m setting aside time to figure this out.”
“I’m the only here with an MBA.”
Whatever it is, take control of the narrative in your head, starting with brainstorming a brag sheet: listing out your past achievements and strongest characteristics. In other words, it’s about focusing your attention on the reasons why you’re awesome, capable, and can totally handle curveballs that will come your way.
Now if you’re feeling so self-conscious that even beginning this kind of an exercise feels impossible, enlist the support of your friends and colleagues, who might be even better able to remind you of your strengths. Once you’ve got them written out, refer back to your brag sheet whenever you’re feeling out of your league to remind you of how far you’ve come already.