Confidence at work: Do you acknowledge your own abilities?

In a recent blog about first impressions, I talked about body language and how first judgements on a person can be made within seconds, perhaps even when they’ve barely said a word. Your level of confidence is one of the things that come across in this first impression.  Appearing to lack confidence is a definite negative in the workplace. Seeming nervous or ill at ease reflects badly on you and your skills, making others less likely to trust your abilities or entrust challenging or important tasks to you.

Lack of confidence in the working environment is not at all unusual and there are many reasons for it. Perhaps you are in a job where you feel insecure about whether your skills match up to requirements? Maybe you feel threatened by having less experience than others around you? Or perhaps you have a poor relationship with your boss or peers? Many people aren’t even aware that their confidence could do with a boost. Although of course it can’t be made accountable for all problems in the work place, a lack of confidence and self esteem can in fact be the underlying cause of a lot of problems, such as bad relationships with co-workers or a lack of acknowledgement of your achievements, for example. Furthermore, a lack of confidence can lead the way into a vicious cycle. If you underestimate your own abilities, you might procrastinate or turn down tasks where you feel out of your depth. If others notice this lack of confidence, or lack of completion of challenging tasks, they may well consider you less capable than you really are. They might then be less likely to consider you for important tasks, thus quite possibly lowering your own self confidence and taking you back to the start of the cycle. To avoid such a scenario, it is clear that any confidence issues really do need to be addressed.

It might seem that feigning confidence is easy – just be more assertive, right? Well, aiming to be more assertive in a working environment is a risky business. There is a fine line between being assertive and being arrogant, a line which you don’t want to cross in the workplace. Arrogance or overconfidence could lead you to take on projects that you are ill-equipped to deal with and that will show you up in the end! Talking up your abilities can make you come across to your peers as off-putting and superior. Let’s face it, a self-assured, competent individual is unlikely to relish feeling superior. The real aim is to be able to communicate in a clear and effective manner so that your skills show thanks to what you do, not what you say.

The key to really being confident is to know yourself. Make sure to identify your weaknesses. Rather than continually avoiding tasks that you feel ill-equipped to perform, make a plan to work on any weaker areas. You should also of course identify your strengths and capitalize on them. Use your skills whenever possible and make sure to reflect on things that you have done well. If your role at work isn’t giving you enough opportunity to benefit from these strengths, then perhaps you should find a position that will!

A part of knowing yourself is of course to be aware of the impression that you make on the people that matter. Take a step back and think about how you act, speak and move. What effect is the way you project yourself having on others around you? Consult a friend whose opinion you respect and trust. Others often notice a lot about us that we are unaware of. They will be able to give you an idea of how others see you and what points you might want to work on. This could help in reverse too. Consider people around you who you consider to be confident and competent. What is it about them that shows their confidence? Emulate this behaviour.

Emulating behaviour is a particularly useful technique if your role model’s confidence shows through their body language or voice. Standing tall, with your shoulders back and your tummy tucked in will work wonders. This posture not only improves your appearance, but also improves breathing and circulation, helping you look and feel composed and in control. Considering tone of voice is important too. While 38% of human communication comes from speech, only 7% is based on the actual words, with the rest left up to the way you say them. Speak clearly, using inflection to punctuate your sentences. Pace your speech well – rushing will show nerves. Make sure to listen, smile and nod when appropriate. Strong, positive body language and a great speaking voice will combine to show you to be a confident, authoritative individual.

Don’t aim to change everything at once. Take on small projects that are challenging but manageable to boost your confidence through their completion. Think about things that you did particularly well and look for opportunities to use these skills again. The absolute key to true confidence has to be believing in yourself and your talents. After all, why should anyone else if you don’t?

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