Do you lack self-confidence, a must-have for business success? Let’s fix it right now

Confidence is a skill, and like any other, it can be acquired. Step one is to just do it. Act as if you exude self-confidence. Fake it until you become it.

Photo: Tanja Heffner

How many times have you been in a meeting with a man who’s clearly making it up as he goes, yet doing so with the utmost certainty? You’re thinking, Seriously? He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. I have an idea that’s much better. He, meanwhile, is confidently advancing his ill-considered position without a whisper of doubt. And while you hold yourself back from promoting your worthier position, he’s the one who ends up in front of the group waxing eloquent, drawing accolades, and advancing faster up the ranks.

How about when you have a success? You’ve worked hard, come up with a new approach, brought in a new client or customer, or made a big sale. You deserve accolades, but do you lay claim to them? Or do you attribute the result to fate or to other people? I bet you do the latter. Men don’t. They fully acknowledge their own achievements, and often take credit for other people’s contributions. They are always the star of the narrative.

What accounts for this gender gap? It comes down to one word: confidence. Studies consistently show that while their actual performances did not differ in quality, men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and women routinely underestimated both. This lack of confidence is devastating to our careers. We don’t consider ourselves qualified for our current jobs or promotions, we predict we will do poorly when faced with challenges, we hesitate before making key decisions, and we believe we don’t deserve job advancement or greater compensation. What begins as self-doubt quickly becomes self-sabotage.

Succeeding in the business world requires more than competence. Our efforts to demonstrate that we deserve promotion, compensation, and success based on merit have been misguided because confidence trumps competence.

The good news is that confidence is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be acquired. Step one is to just do it. Act as if you exude self-confidence. Fake it until you become it. Walk the walk and talk the talk.

Imagine, for example, a woman who is petrified of public speaking. Her fears loom large—she’ll forget her talking points and just stand there silently, she’ll sound stupid or shallow, or she’ll start stammering and stuttering. Her stage fright is almost incapacitating. Despite these challenges, she forces herself to make a short speech to a small group of people. She practices and prepares. And she does it! There’s no standing ovation, but she does just fine. None of her fears materialize. What does appear, however, are the first blossoming signs of confidence. That single, small step toward mastering her fear of speaking is enough to give her the confidence to speak again. Next time, she may feel comfortable taking on a longer, weightier speech or speaking before a larger audience.

Taking action. Risking. Doing. These things generate a belief that you can successfully perform a skill, and that directly generates confidence. That, in turn, stimulates further action, and the cycle continues.

Start with these actions:

1. Stand up with confidence

Knowing that a substantial part of confidence is a choice can free you from the myth that you’re stuck at the level of confidence you feel now. As ambitious women, we can choose to expand our confidence. Starting now, you have to put yourself out there. Force yourself if you must, begin small if that’s what it takes, but you must act. Action breeds confidence.

Stop brooding and doubting your abilities. End your self-sabotaging thoughts, and start taking action and taking risks. Once you see that you can do something, it bolsters your ability to take another action or face another risk.

2. Speak up

If you have an idea or disagree with what’s being said, speak up. Shut down mansplaining and manterrupting and stop allowing men to appropriate your ideas as their own. When you are speaking, do not yield, and call out any man who interrupts you. If necessary, bluntly say “Stop interrupting me and let me finish.” When you talk, make sure to use empowering language that exudes confidence.

Never apologize before you speak. The word “sorry” should be banished from your vocabulary. Do you ever hear a man apologizing? Similarly, never caveat what you are about to say with prefaces such as “I’m not sure but” or “I might be wrong but.” If you discount what you’re about to say, good luck having the men take you seriously. Use direct, forceful language.

Male speech patterns are more assertive, direct and succinct. Women’s speech patterns are perceived as weak, unassertive, and tentative. Use short sentences. This makes it harder for people to interrupt you.

3. Show up

Display your true grit, a combination of mental toughness, courage, hard work, and sometimes sheer stubbornness to keep going until you reach a goal. Reaching that goal is usually a marathon, not a sprint. Demonstrate the tenacity to continuously prove yourself.

Seize the next challenge and keep achieving. Push back against those who deny you what you need.

4. Smarten up

Focus on earning respect, not popularity. As women, we tend to be people-pleasers and hyper-sensitive to nuance. Don’t obsess over being “likable.” “Most men aren’t worried about being ‘likeable,’ so you have to get over it. If you’re good enough at your job, it doesn’t matter. Understand that success is not a popularity contest. Women have to learn to withstand disapproval and criticism and, when necessary, to take hard, contrary positions.

The most likable people are not regarded as leaders. Instead, to achieve success be respected, decisive, and inspiring.

Linda Jane Smith’s new book, Smashing Glass & Kicking Ass: Lessons from the Meanest Woman Alive, is available at Amazon as well as other online booksellers. To learn more, visit Linda on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and at TheMeanestWomanAlive.com.