Confidence: that thing that many of us are full of as young adults, sailing through life without receiving any criticism. Yet your first blow at work can make that sky-high self-confidence crumble, leaving you as a timid and stripped version of your previous self.
Though it’s easy for our self-esteem to be knocked, it’s so challenging to build it back up again. Don’t fret if you find yourself in this position, though; there are ways to manage your insecurity at work, regain confidence in your abilities and go back to performing at your full potential.
Experiencing low self-confidence in the workplace can happen for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is having a rigid mindset rather than a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets view mistakes and challenges as opportunities to learn and progress, not as insurmountable obstacles that they themselves are “too weak” or incapable to overcome.
In addition, the tendency to focus on the negative can also lead to your fixating on any shortcomings and not giving yourself enough credit for all you’ve achieved. The tendency to compare yourself to others can have a similar effect, disproportionally magnifying your weaknesses while overestimating the strengths of others.
All in all, confidence (or the lack of it) tends to stem from the narrative we tell ourselves. Focus on your weaknesses and that’s all you’re going to see — even though that’s not all that exists!
Sometimes, we do things without realizing. So, knowing some of the signs of a lack of self-confidence can be a great way to start paying more attention to your own behavior in the workplace. See if any of the following three scenarios sound familiar:
Avoiding confrontation at all costs
Think of this scenario: one of your coworkers makes a condescending remark about you in front of your team, and it really bothers you. They’ve worked at the company far longer than you have, however, and they hold a higher position than you. They’re even buddies with the manager.
Do you let them know they’ve crossed a boundary, or do you seethe in silence and humiliation and beat yourself up about not being able to confront them? If you’re low on self-confidence, we’re willing to bet it’s the latter.
Limiting what you share in front of others
Low self-esteem is usually accompanied by an intense fear of criticism. People who lack confidence in the workplace will often refrain from expressing opinions or ideas, in case someone rejects what they have to say.
For example, you could be sitting in a meeting with a few other coworkers and your boss, brainstorming solutions to a problem you’re facing. While everyone else chips in, you think of solutions yet suppress them — “in case I say the wrong thing”. But what if you did share and your idea was, in fact, the best? What if it made an impression on your boss and even landed you a promotion? You’ll never know.
Failing to negotiate or claim things for yourself
If you don’t believe that you bring real value to your company, you’re likely going to accept some terms of employment that aren’t fair on you — whether that’s a job role that doesn’t reflect your expertise or a paycheck that fails to do so.
While someone with more confidence would respectfully request and fight for something better for themselves, a person who’s low on self-esteem would have a much harder time doing so.
We’ve seen what happens when you’re low on self-confidence at work. But what about confident people: what are their days like at the office? Here are some of the benefits of believing in yourself:
- Negotiating becomes easier. How would you negotiate a higher salary if you don’t even believe you deserve one in the first place — or you’re sat there worrying that your boss will think you’re ungrateful if you do so?
- Setbacks don’t seem like end-of-the-world scenarios. You know within yourself that you’re resilient and capable enough to find solutions. Plus, you know there will be a valuable lesson to be learnt at the end.
- You don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards. You don’t strive for perfection all the time, because you know you have nothing to prove. This, in turn, boosts your productivity.
- Your coworkers’ opinions don’t really affect you. Gossipy coworkers are the worst; however, when your view of yourself is a positive one, it can’t be shaken as easily by what anyone else says.
- You’re more respected. When your body language and eye contact exude confidence, people are likelier to pay attention to what you say, turn to you for advice and respect you more.
Ready to gain back some faith in your ability? Here are 10 tips and strategies that can help in increasing your confidence as a working adult.
1. Confront your fears
Do you fear public speaking? If so, offer to hold the next team meeting so you can get used to talking in front of a crowd of people. It will help you build up your confidence and belief in yourself to know that you can speak in front of people. It’s also wise to consider taking classes to help boost your self-confidence.
2. Make an achievement log
When you lack confidence, it’s easy to dwell on what you haven’t achieved instead of thinking about what you have managed to accomplish so far in your life. Make a log of all your achievements, whether this is in the form of a printed folder in your draw, a folder on your Outlook or your desktop. I once saved all my great feedback from clients in my inbox to remind myself why I aimed to go above and beyond every time I completed a task — it truly worked!
3. Focus on your strengths
Many professionals use the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to improve themselves in the workplace. This can help you put into perspective what you’re really good at and what you can advance on — therefore building your self-worth in the process.
4. Increase your knowledge
It’s a scientific fact that the more you learn about a specific topic, the more confident you’ll be when discussing it. After doing your SWOT analysis, select a few areas you really want to work on, and use this as a way to regain your confidence again.
5. Accept that mistakes will happen
I can assure you that even the best of the best will make a mistake now and again, so there really is no use sitting there beating yourself up about it! The most important thing is to admit that you made a mistake, learn from it, and move on.
6. Learn from constructive criticism
Let’s face it: any criticism can be hard to swallow. However, if you take the constructive feedback and use it to do better next time, you’ll discover ways to develop your skill set and increase your confidence in the process.
7. Adopt a positive attitude
When you lack confidence, you generally have a negative attitude and think that everyone is judging you before you even open your mouth. A good way to shift this soul-destroying thought process is to adopt a more positive approach to everything and try to see the best in a bad situation.
8. Dress to impress
It’s so easy to underestimate the effect that clothing has on our self-assurance. A recent study, jointly conducted by Columbia University and California State University, found that wearing formal attire changes people’s thought processes. In other words, when we put on formal clothing, it makes us feel more powerful and can change the way our coworkers see us.
Another study, led by Russell Clayton from Saint Leo University, found that “individuals who exercised regularly were more confident, they could handle the interaction of their work and home life, and were less likely to be stressed at work”.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, why not start out by incorporating a few desk exercises into your routine?
10. Don't compare yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others is just going to make you feel depressed. Maybe your coworker Karen is better at Excel than you are — but you, too, have qualities that Karen doesn’t possess. What’s important here is to focus on what you can do and what you can achieve. A workplace isn’t a battlefield but an environment where teamwork is essential — where everyone’s key skills matter.
There’s no magic button to press to instantaneously build confidence at work. There are, however, some activities you can start doing that will allow you to feel more confident over time!
Volunteering seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. It allows you to build meaningful connections and experience a sense of community, as well as enjoy a sense of control knowing that you’re actively making a difference in people's lives.
Learning new things
Do you admire people who seem comfortable speaking about virtually any topic you throw at them, and wish you could be a bit more like them? Make a habit out of acquiring new skills and knowledge, be that in the form of an online course, a class, or extra reading.
Dr Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist, is a firm believer in the power of visualization. Engaging all five senses while imagining yourself crushing a goal (be that passing an exam or giving a successful presentation) is a technique that can boost your confidence, allowing you to keep your eyes fixed on the prize and leaving no room for negative self-talk.
This encompasses different things, including exercising regularly, sleeping enough, maintaining healthy relationships and working on your self-talk. If your body and mind aren’t feeling rested and taken care of, how can you expect to perform well at work? Your productivity will suffer, and subsequently so will your confidence.
At first glance, affirmations can be seen as being too woo-woo. But they have been scientifically proven to work in lowering people’s stress levels and improving performance.
According to David Creswell, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, “[affirmations are] about really identifying, in really concrete ways, the kinds of things about you that you really value.” When you regularly remind yourself of your great traits, you shift away from holding a black-and-white opinion of yourself that can so easily be shaken and result in a lack of confidence.
Clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman writes in Psychology Today: “[…] it’s estimated that roughly 85% of people worldwide (adults and adolescents) have low self-esteem.” She attributes this to people having a “critical self-concept”, or a rigid, negative view of themselves.
Luckily, as we’ve seen in this article, there are ways to start building up your self-esteem. To summarize:
- Stepping out of your comfort zone and watching yourself do things that once made you feel insecure is one of the fastest ways to boost your confidence.
- Building confidence takes time. You can’t flick on a switch and wake up an entirely new person; you have to train your mind to view yourself and life in general in a more positive light.
- Increasing your self-awareness is crucial when you want to build your confidence. You need to first observe what’s causing your low self-esteem to change your patterns of thought and behavior.
- Self-care in the form of rest, exercise and socializing is vital when looking to boost your performance and productivity, and consequently your view of yourself as a working professional.
Can you think of any more ways a person can build their confidence? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Originally published on March 26, 2018. Contains contributions by Joanna Zambas.