There are many reasons you can lack confidence at work. Maybe you’re in a job that requires skills you don’t have, or you’re less experienced than anyone around you. Or you’re new to the company and feel uneasy about your ability to succeed. Or you feel threatened by colleagues, fear losing your job, or are simply too hard on yourself. Public humiliation and errors in judgment can also do the trick.
There’s just one most common reason, though, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: “Overall, the most common reason that employees lose confidence is very simply because of a bad relationship with their boss. That insecurity will last as long as the relationship is strained.”
Negative peer relationships also often disrupt confidence, especially if there’s a pack mentality, she adds. “A group may feel threatened, for example, and try to undermine a worker. But since managers hold the cards to the employee’s future, the state of that rapport has the greatest impact on confidence levels.”
The good news is that you can manage behavior around you to improve relations, boosting both your self-esteem and your career, Taylor says. And you’ll definitely want to do that.
Why be more assertive? For one, you will be taken more seriously if your words and action have conviction, Taylor explains. “This will help you advance in your job and career.” However, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so be sure you don’t overcompensate by getting egotistical during moments of low self-esteem.
“Regulating and balancing feelings of confidence requires considerable self-awareness and knowledge,” says Dr. Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin and author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career. “In the same way that you don’t want to lack confidence, you also don’t want to be over-confident. Over-confidence can make you take on projects that are beyond your capability, and you might not be able to complete them.”
A healthy level of confidence, however, will make you more likely to engage in challenging but manageable projects, will help you get outside your comfort zone, and allow you to achieve new goals–all of which are valued characteristics of successful workers, Brooks says. “Employers will know that they can trust you with a project and that you are likely going to be good at motivating others as well.”
William Arruda, a personal branding expert and author of Ditch. Dare. Do! says confidence is important because it is the most attractive personal brand attribute. “When someone exudes confidence, we want to work with them. We are more likely to follow their lead. Confidence is the number one byproduct of the personal branding process, because in branding you uncover what makes you exceptional and use it to make career choices and deliver outstanding value.”
Confidence is also a key leadership quality, Taylor adds. If you are a decisive person with the credentials to back it up, you will be better positioned to advance in a company. “You’ll also be able to attract and retain a quality team, because they will trust you and feel you have matters under control. If you know your subject and stance, believe in yourself, and speak with poise and conviction, you will naturally exude confidence.” Conversely, uncertainty begets uncertainty. If you doubt yourself, so will others.
Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach and president of SurpassYourDreams.com, says that without confidence you won’t stand out, you won’t be assigned great projects, and you’re less likely to be recognized or get raises, bonuses, and promotions.
It turns out your confidence can benefit your employer, as well.
“More and more, employees are the face of the company,” Arruda says. “When employees are confident, they are better spokespeople for the company. With a lean workforce, companies need everyone engaged and inspired. Lack of confidence impedes full engagement.”
Taylor adds that employers benefit from confident workers because they are more positive contributors, more productive, good motivators and make great role models. “In addition, self-assured employees, particularly in customer-facing or sales positions, directly contribute to brand perception, beginning with the receptionist or administrative contact,” Taylor says. “Companies want to put their best foot forward in a macro sense, too, projecting leadership and confidence–and employees represent the parts to the whole.”
Good employees spend a lot of time being modest, says Alexandra Levit, the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. “Sometimes we actually feel that way, and sometimes we don’t but think that’s how we’re supposed to act so that other people will like us. At times, though, I believe it has the reverse effect. Other people don’t view us as talented or as worthy because we don’t appear to view ourselves that way.”
If you have low self-esteem or your confidence has been threatened in some way, here’s what the experts say you can do to strengthen your backbone and boost morale:
Stay focused on you
Taylor says you should do the best you can to stay on-task and focused, regardless of politics, rumor mills or non-productive maneuvers that are as common as the office water cooler. “Confidence emerges from time-honored good work combined with a great attitude,” she adds.
Identify your strengths and capitalize on them
“One of the best ways to build confidence is to get clear on your strengths and find ways to integrate those strengths into what you do every day,” Arruda says. When you lead from your strengths, you’re engaged and energized. You’re self-assured.
Once you take inventory of the things you do better than anyone else, ask yourself how you can use those strengths to do your job, Arruda adds. “If your current role does not give you opportunities to maximize your strengths, think about other roles that will.
Identify weaknesses, and work on them
If there are weaknesses that are affecting your confidence, make a plan to reduce or eliminate them, Arruda suggests. You shouldn’t obsess over these things—but know that addressing your weaknesses and making a diligent effort to overcome them can help boost confidence.
Believe in yourself
It may be easier said than done, but try to tell yourself “I can do this,” and believe it. Arruda suggests saying three affirmations to yourself each night before going to bed–telling yourself three things that you like about yourself or three things that went well that day.
Closely monitor your successes
Keep track of your daily accomplishments, Taylor says. Make a “to-do” list. This way, when you cross tasks off your list, you’re more aware of your constant achievements.
She also suggests keeping a digital “kudos file” to record your successes. This is where you can store congratulatory e-mails, milestones reached, kudos from bosses or peers, notes to yourself on challenges overcome, thank you letters, and recognition and praise from inside and outside the company. “Refer to the file regularly for a reality check of your talents and a personal pat on the back. It’ll also come in handy when you launch a future job search.”
Know that your confidence may be threatened at times
“Accept that this is going to happen, Levit says. “If you are on the receiving end of a mean comment that shakes your confidence, give yourself 24 to 48 hours to recover before responding or making any important decisions.”
Seek encouragement from others
Ask people you respect what they think are your three greatest strengths, Arruda says. “Then find ways to use those strengths.”
Brooks says, “Get feedback from colleagues, friends or even your supervisor about how you are doing. Ask them to identify your strengths and places where they’d like to see you do more. Sometimes other people see more talent in us than we recognize in ourselves.”
Accomplishing things that you didn’t think possible can be a great way to boost your confidence. Find projects and assignments that give you an opportunity to use your strengths and take on projects that stretch you, Brown-Volkman says.
“Try something new, even if you’re unsure or afraid,” Brooks adds. “Take baby steps if needed, but begin to immerse yourself in the new project or activity and see how it goes. Try to refrain from judging your performance too early in the process, or comparing your performance to someone who has been doing that activity for a much longer period of time.”
Be a role model of positive attitude
Develop a positive attitude, Brooks says. Positive doesn’t always mean “happy”– it can also mean resilient. “Focus on how you can provide solutions rather than spend a lot of time discussing the problem.”
Taylor adds, “Workers are drawn to those with an upbeat attitude, especially when challenges emerge, and it can start with you. It’s contagious, even with your boss, and it will project confidence as you make this part of your ‘personal brand.’”
Carefully consider how you react to your boss’s and colleagues’ actions
“One of the most effective ways to gain confidence is elevating your emotional radar in the workplace,” Taylor says. “Read through the actions of your boss and co-workers, especially when they affect your self-confidence. Understand that they may be acting out in ways that we are all capable of, like children or even toddlers, when under stress or frustrated. “
Once you use this “levity lens” and see human beings protecting their turf or ego, or wanting praise like children, you will respond more appropriately, versus suffering in silence or blaming yourself. “Try parenting up without patronizing under these circumstances. This will empower you and engender confidence, which others will want to emulate.”
Written by: Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes Staff
As published in: Forbes - 6 March 2012