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Want to be more confident at work? Here’s how.

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Want to be more confident at work? Here’s how.
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Want to be more confident at work? Here’s how.

“Just be more confident” is probably some of the best and most frustrating professional advice you’ll ever get. If only it were that easy! Yet an authentic and healthy sense of self-confidence can be the driver of many things we aspire to at work. Speaking up in meetings. Getting picked for interesting projects. Getting leadership opportunities. And, of course, getting promotions or pay raises.

But let’s say for a moment, your confidence isn’t quite there yet. How can you be more confident at work? We have some advice! But the most important takeaway is that confidence is an ongoing practice. A truly confident mindset takes identifying the underlying causes, daily repetition, and accepting that having off days is also part of the process.

Ready to learn how to be more confident at work? We’re exploring what confidence is, where low self-confidence comes from, how it can impact you at work, and sharing some advice on how to show up as a more confident version of yourself.

What confidence is and why it matters at work

What confidence is and why it matters at work

Self-confidence means “to trust one’s own abilities, qualities, and judgment.” With a sense of self-trust, the benefits are almost endless. In a work context, a strong sense of self-confidence can help you…

  • Make better decisions
  • Become a better leader
  • Speak up
  • Ask questions
  • Perform better
  • Believe in yourself and your abilities
  • Cope with change
  • Weather difficult periods

It’s easy to see how this can have a ripple effect on your performance, how you see yourself, and how others see you over the long term. But before you can truly understand how to cultivate confidence, an important first step is first to identify why you might lack confidence in the first place.

Where does low self-confidence come from

Where does low self-confidence come from?

The first step towards being more confident at work is understanding why you might be lacking confidence in the first place. In a work environment, you might feel insecure for perfectly valid reasons! Maybe you’re less senior or experienced than the other people on your team. You might be in a new job and hoping to prove yourself (or fear losing your job). You might also be working alongside dominant personalities, under a micromanager, or dealing with an organizational culture that can kill confidence.

However, these are all circumstantial. Confidence is something you should be able to bring with you anywhere you go. It also empowers you to leave a situation that threatens your confidence!

There’s a strong case to be made that low self-confidence at work often has a deeper origin that extends beyond your current workplace or environment. Psychology Today cites some of the most common reasons for low self-confidence as…

  • Genes and temperament. Genetics plays a major role in our predisposition to confidence. They impact everything from how our brains access chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. On the same note, our temperament plays a role in our confidence. Something called “behavioral inhibition” refers to how certain traits are more associated with confidence, and people who lack that in their temperament might struggle with confidence more than their peers.
  • Life experiences. Another important variable when it comes to confidence is, of course, life experiences. These parts of our worldview are shaped by how we were parented, traumatic experiences, bullying, identities or expressions, etc. Based on our experiences, we might hold negative beliefs, stories, or patterns that we’ll need to work through to rediscover confidence.
  • Misinformation. There’s misinformation surrounding what confidence should be. Perhaps you hold fixed ideas about confidence, then feel frustrated when you can’t meet that standard. Whether it’s a tendency towards perfectionism or imposter syndrome, true confidence appears in many different forms. Accepting that is one of the keys to finding unique ways of being and expressing confidence.
  • The world around us. Social media, advertising, and connectivity. While comparison and lack have always been a driver of confidence issues, our modern environment exposes us to these messages more intrusive than ever.
  • Mental health issues. Low self-confidence is associated with other underlying mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. If you find low confidence a persistent problem, addressing the root cause often has major benefits.

All this to say – self-confidence issues don’t come from nowhere, and they aren’t a defect. It’s impossible to compare yourself and how you show up with how others show up, and the issues you struggle with will be unique to you. By approaching advice for how to be confident at work through a lens of your individual experience, you’ll be better able to address your specific confidence issues more directly.

How to practice confidence at work

How to practice confidence at work

Now that we’ve explored some of the origins of low self-confidence and why confidence is so important, let’s get into the advice.

Connect with yourself.

The whole purpose of confidence is that it’s authentic and flows from within. You can follow a checklist of behaviors to appear more confident, but the foundations of being confident are a deep level of self-knowing and understanding. Before jumping straight to techniques, start by exploring where your low self-confidence comes from. There are podcasts, books, journaling exercises, therapists, etc., who can help with this discovery process. Start to understand the origins of your low self-confidence and how it might appear at work.

For example, if you’re struggling with pleasing people, learn more about where the tendency comes from and how it manifests. Explore how that makes you feel, how it drains your energy, or how your life would change if you changed the behavior. You might notice you struggle to say no when colleagues ask for favors, leaving you exhausted and frustrated. In that case, you could make specific goals around this or develop a script for saying no while working towards confidence.

Practice Confident Behaviors.

Understanding that confidence is part of an ongoing practice, there are still some short-term measures you can introduce. “Fake it until you make it,” as the saying goes. Though small disclaimer: you should never do something you’re uncomfortable with or that clashes with who you are! Just think of this as trying on new behaviors and ways of being to see what you might integrate in the long term.

So what are confident behaviors? Some straightforward areas you can notice and focus your energy on are…

  • Eye contact – do you hold it or avoid it? Look away when you’re shy or uncomfortable? Look down when you pass your colleagues? All of these behaviors can signal a lack of confidence. Try making more eye contact when speaking or holding your head up when you pass people.
  • Body language – do you have open body language when talking or presenting? Or are you more likely to sit with sloped shoulders, head down? Try standing tall or positioning yourself with a straight back. Talk with your hands. Observe how colleagues you respect carry themselves, and see if you can’t mirror some of their mannerisms in your presentation.
  • Dress – do you choose clothes that make you feel confident at work? Invest in some things that make you feel professional and comfortable to support your changing behaviors.
  • Nix negative habits – nail biting, hair twirling, foot tapping, or other nervousness-related habits might be working against you appearing more confident.

Notice how you talk

Noticing how you talk is another behavioral change, but it deserves its section because it greatly impacts how people perceive you at work. Start by seeing how you speak to yourself. Do you say things like “I always do this” or “that was so stupid” when you make a mistake? Do you qualify your ideas with language like “I’m not sure but…” or “It’s probably already been said, but…”. There’s a high chance that the language you use with yourself reinforces any negative self-belief. By catching yourself and choosing more positively framed thoughts, you start to reshape your self-perception.

Next comes how you handle communications with others. This might be in person or in writing. Do you start your sentences with qualifiers like “I think” or “I feel” rather than confidently stating your ideas? When you write an email, are you overly friendly or apologetic rather than coming across as direct and competent? That’s not to say there’s no time and place for qualified or polite communication – but when you’re trying to shape how others perceive you, this is one area with the biggest, most powerful impact.

Work through your weaknesses.

There’s a good reason you’re struggling with confidence at work. If you’re new to the team or in a role that feels outside your skill set, you might spend a lot of time wondering how to appear smart or confident at work. Rather than pushing through and working on your confidence as a stand-alone issue, you might invest in some skills training or mentorship to grow through your weaknesses. Ask good questions from the right people, and take an opportunity to learn.

Keep in mind the goal here is not perfection! There will never be a point where you’re done learning! But if you’ve received negative feedback, are struggling with your tasks, or have another genuine reason for concern that your skills need an update, use this as an opportunity. When you feel more capable in your role, confidence comes more naturally.

Play to your strengths.

In addition to noticing your weaknesses, try playing to your strengths. Perhaps there are things that you’re naturally good at or excel at. Do more of those, and bring in leadership or colleagues when you do a good job. It might be challenging at first, but confident people do this all the time! This might mean including someone in leadership on cc: or presenting to your team when you achieve something. If you don’t call attention to your successes, it’s possible no one else will.

Additionally, look for roles or opportunities that play to your skills. Work should be a balance of growth opportunities and comfortable and competent execution. If you’re a great writer or presenter, seek out opportunities that allow you to do more of this.

Set goals and monitor your successes

Like any change, it’s important to have goals that keep you on track and help you monitor your progress. Start small. What are one or two things you can commit to doing daily or weekly that will make the biggest impact? Set a SMART goal – that’s something specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound – and work towards it. It might be something like “speak at least once in every meeting” or “review any email I send for unconfident language.” See if you can’t act on these things for a month before trying for something else.

Just as important as setting goals is tracking them and celebrating when you achieve them! Keep track of your goals (e.g., every time you speak in a meeting), and take the time to acknowledge it when you’ve done it consistently! That’s huge progress, even if you don’t feel it immediately. Notice how it’s changing how you feel, and add something new if you feel comfortable with how the first one has been integrated. Another tip – keep track of your successes. A list of achievements, positive customer reviews, and successful projects can be useful when you feel unconfident or down on yourself. By having this nearby, you can reference it as a pick-me-up when you need it most.

Consistent Practice

As we started this article by saying – acting confident isn’t just a quick fix. The kind of confidence you want comes from within, and that will take both deep work and consistent effort. If you find that your confidence (or lack of confidence) is holding you back at work, see this as an ongoing journey of growth and self-improvement.

Notice the small ways you improve, be patient, and accept mistakes. Growth is never linear, and this is no exception! Trust that with consistent practice, your small steps towards confidence at work will become a more noticeable sense of self-confidence over time. Why not get started now?

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