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Silence your inner critic: How to be more confident at work (and why your boss will thank you)

How to tackle those nagging doubts.

Image: Tim Gouw

MK IS A DIGITAL marketer, and her road to feeling confident in the workplace has been a bumpy one.

“My boss [in my last job] regularly made snide comments about my work, to the point where I dreaded going into work or even asking for help,” she says. “During this time my work was some of the best in the company.”

Despite the results MK was bringing to the table, this attitude from her boss took a toll, and her self-belief suffered.

There are few among us who don’t struggle with confidence in the workplace: no-one works at 100% capacity all the time, but if you find yourself constantly struggling with negative feelings, it might be an issue beyond having a bad day.

According to a survey done earlier this year by the University of Glasgow, an incredible 75% of women don’t feel confident in their places of work, citing fears of inadequacy and difficulties with speaking up, especially. These figures are not surprising to many – it can be difficult to build up workplace confidence, especially, given that for many of us, one harsh critique from a boss can be difficult to come back from.

So what’s the best way of building up workplace resilience, and becoming the most confident person in the office?

Source: Brooke Lark

The road to confidence is, unsurprisingly, best travelled with others. There are plenty of things that managers and bosses can do to help employees become more confident – a mutually beneficial thing to do. Be it coaching, mentoring, work shadowing or paying for external coaching, it’s important for a business to invest in an employee.

Killian Cawley, managing director of agricultural products firm PE Services, sums it up like this: “A confident employee is essential [to a business], whether they are customer focused or otherwise.”

Beating the impostor

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, internalised of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. Think of all the times you’ve written off your own successes as flukes, or looked at a co-worker and thought ‘he’s what a good worker looks like, I’m just pretending to be one’: that’s impostor syndrome.

It’s a widespread phenomenon: from teachers to journalists, many of us suffer from it. Getting it under control isn’t easy, and many of us may wrestle with it for years, especially when we’re considering a change in work roles. If ‘Who am I to ask for a promotion?’ is something you find yourself thinking on the regular, congratulations: you’ve got impostor syndrome.

“We can often default to being deficit based (rather than strengths based) in our career thinking” says Sophie Rowan, author of Brilliant Career Coach and Chartered Work Psychologist with coaching specialists Pinpoint.

It is possible to talk yourself out of impostor syndrome, she says, but there is a difference between doing so as a quick fix and applying a longer-term solution.

For a short term fix, Sophie recommends that you set yourself up for success by “visualising yourself at your very best… You can also use positive affirmations or mantras to get you through that tricky meeting or conversation”. Other tips include:

  • Learn. Adding to your skillset by signing up to in-house training or undertaking a qualification outside work that is linked to your job has proven benefits in increasing confidence
  • Find a passion project. Doing something that’s important to you outside of work has transferable impact to your work confidence.
  • Invest time in your relationship with your boss. Start a conversation about your career progression. This will help your confidence grow.
  • Reflect. What is missing for many employees is the time to step back and reflect on what’s important to them. Are you focussing on the right things? Are you enjoying what you’re doing? Do you know where you’re going?

Rowan suggests that spending two to four hours a month focussing on points like these will deliver “tangible results” for anyone’s confidence.

In the longer term, she stresses the importance of “knowing and valuing your core work strengths as an employee” and investigating what may at the root of any confidence issues with a career or executive coach.

It may help to take note of things that you do achieve in the workplace – no matter how small. I have a specific notebook where I take note of things I do well in work, or times I’ve been praised – it sounds arrogant, but it’s great to combat impostor syndrome (and for interview preparation!).

Boosting employees

Managing people is easier when those people are confident in their roles: a nervous, under-confident employee may underperform, or simply don’t trust themselves to take on tasks that need to be done. It’s professionally frustrating for everyone involved!

Killian Cawley agrees:

Under confident employees can impact negatively on a business in a number of ways. Their lack of confidence can impact on customer interactions and can reflect negatively on the business. [Also] people with low confidence can take longer doing tasks as they are questioning their abilities more. In my experience they tend to be slower to seek assistance or support which is also an issue.

It can be an arduous task for managers to encourage these employees to be more confident in their performance, but it’s worthwhile. Killian says that “the employee needs to understand what their role and responsibilities are and expectations must be clearly communicated. They must also have the right skills and training for the role…The right people in the right seats is key.”

Dialogue is key to building employee confidence, too: all three interviewees were clear on that.

“The employee must know that they have support within their role, someone should be appointed as a ‘mentor’ or go to person if they need help. This will help build confidence” says Killian.

Having that ‘mentor’ backup is invaluable to an employee and can really boost their confidence. A small compliment can be really encouraging to someone struggling.

Sophie mentions workplace dialogue as key, too: “Have an open and honest conversation with your boss” about any problems you may have, and get support where you can.

If you don’t have this supportive boss figure, take MK’s advice and [take] an unbiased look at your work. “Do your blogs get more views? Do you get great feedback from clients? Use these to believe in yourself more!”

Alternatively, have a friend take a look at your work; if they’re in the same industry as you, their feedback can be just as useful as a colleague’s.

For MK, things have picked up, thanks to her newfound confidence in herself and a different job – she advises people feeling under confident to focus on the data, not their feelings. “The results don’t lie”.

It’s worth taking time to get to know yourself and learn to value your strengths, says Sophie. Workplace confidence, she says, “puts you in the driver’s seat of your career. When you value yourself, others will too.”

More: ‘Turn off your notifications’: How to find work-life harmony in our always-on world>

More: ‘It was adapt or die’: How to manage a difficult boss – and still get your work done>

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