It’s hard not to be impressed by the kinetic, viral reaction to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s recent article in The Atlantic, “The Confidence Gap,” spotlighting how women with loads of competence seem to lack equal amounts of confidence. And here’s a not-so-shocking revelation: All success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.
Compared to men, women tend to place a higher value on being competent. Yet striving to become 100% competent at a skill can actually prevent women from achieving their business goals if they lack the necessary confidence. Many women believe they are held to higher standards: When they’re wrong, they believe the spotlight is brighter on their snafus. Perhaps men are better at minimizing their failures and moving on. So women need to get more competent at being confident. Here's my take, ladies (and any guys who want to work on their confidence), on the top three ways for building confidence:
1) Take charge of your negative self-talk. Lower the volume on the “Saboteur,” that voice we all have in our heads that whispers – or shouts: “You’re not good enough to lead this meeting (or anything else)”…“Don’t say that…everyone will think…”…“Why did/didn’t you do/say that…?”…“You need to be perfect…”
The tricky thing with the Saboteur is that she or he (you pick the gender) pretends she's here to protect and help you. The truth is she holds you back, creates self-doubt and builds obstacles.
- The Saboteur will try to convince you she only has your best interests at heart and doesn’t want to see you “fail.” So recognize you’ll make mistakes; without mistakes, you aren’t putting yourself out there, taking calculated risks. No risk, no reward. And you aren’t learning. When you do make a mistake, quickly acknowledge it, fix it and move on.
- Identify all the negative Saboteur comments that question your confidence, e.g., bitchy/bossy, too nice, too young/old, too pretty/not pretty. The Saboteur also likes to dwell on what went wrong in the past, whether it was 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 years ago. Write down all of that negative chatter, then burn, bury or box it away.
- Find balance…if you’re not fulfilled in your personal life, the Saboteur will find a way to carry those grudges into your business life.
2) Turn up the volume on your “Sage,” the positive internal voice that truly has your best interests at heart.
- Do what you love to do. Often people stay in a role or a career because of a particular competence…but they’re miserable. Passion and a sense of purpose drive confidence. If you don’t love what you’re doing, change your perspective or your job. Otherwise, you aren’t doing yourself or your employer any favors.
- Get clarity on your role and how you contribute to the business. Even if your role isn’t clearly stated, define it for yourself so it meets your sense of purpose. Ambiguity can lead to doubt (a field day for the Saboteur). But it can also lead to defining opportunity and new horizons.
- The Sage would say: “You have what it takes to get this done.” Catch yourself being confident throughout the day, then celebrate. Expect the Saboteur to grow uncomfortable with all that high-fiving…so kick her out of the party.
- Set a high bar for yourself. Stretch outside your comfort zone…even, ladies, if you aren’t 100% competent! The more risks you take, the more you’ll learn (especially from failures), and the more confidence you’ll build. The same is true for your team: Don’t lower the bar; bring your people up to meet your standards, or give them permission to move on.
3) Put Your Best Self Forward. Have an out-of-body experience about how you present yourself to the world. And consider any necessary adjustments to build credibility, rapport and confidence.
- Listen to your voice/words:
- Be authentic, respectful, even-keel (not too soft, but especially not too loud – never raise your voice: it’s a classic Saboteur ploy that screams "insecurity").
- Don't end statements with a question, like, you know, Uptalk?
- Be clear and consistent with direction (but avoid micromanaging); give immediate and honest feedback.
- Be judicious with the word "sorry." Use it when you really mean it; over using it diminishes your perceived competence.
- Act like a CEO (a good one) – you don’t need to be an expert in everything and have all the answers. Ask questions focused on surfacing critical facts. Then use your expertise and approach to make decisions.
- Don't sit quiet at the table, nodding in agreement, taking great notes, waiting for the right words to say the right thing - put something out there for discussion; go for the facts; keep emotions out of it.
- Hey, not everyone will like you, but your job is to demonstrate likable traits: Be approachable. Show energy, humility, empathy. Take time to get to know people. SMILE (especially when you’re under stress and asking for extra effort). Don’t pile up your stress level on your peers or (worse) those who work for you.
- People will follow someone they respect and trust and who, in turn, respects and trusts them. Not being nice to people shows a lack of respect, plain and simple. Not getting to know someone on your team emphasizes you don't really care about them.
- When something blows up, avoid finger pointing (another Saboteur scheme). If you must find blame, find it in a process defect: Work together as a team to figure out what went wrong, then focus on improving the process so it doesn’t happen again.
The great news is you can build confidence at any age, and it’s good for your brain. The more you practice new ways of thinking and trying different actions, the more you create new neural pathways. Practice with patience in mind, not perfection.
Here’s a link to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s article in The Atlantic, “The Confidence Gap”
Thanks to all of you who allowed their Sages to give me valuable perspectives and feedback for this blog.