How to Gain Confidence: Here's How to Think, Speak and Act

Photo Credit: © michaeljung | Adobe Stock

By Melissa Hereford

READ MORE: Career advice, Career development

Gaelle considered herself a confident woman. She had just been promoted into a higher-level position at work that put her on a leadership team with her peers. Her boss told her that he had promoted her in part because she had fresh ideas that the team needed. It was clear that he expected her to share her ideas and change the dynamics of the team.

Gaelle was confident that she could do the job. She spent the next three meetings sharing ideas — and having those ideas ignored or dismissed completely by the team. By the fourth meeting, she got quiet, completely defeated by the experience. She had no idea how she’d gone from an outspoken, competent leader to the woman in the room with nothing to add to the conversation.

Her lack of self-confidence and feeling that she couldn;t handle certain situations or find success could very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. She knew she had to do something different. Her boss told her to be more confident in the meetings. When Gaelle came to me at Negotiate With Confidenceshe had no idea what that meant. Build self-confidence? The thing is, confidence is a catchall word. Want more out of life? Build your confidence! Want to get ahead at work? Show more confidence!

But what does that mean and how can you do it, really? In my course Negotiate With Confidencewe break it down to action: what you think, what you say and what you do. These negotiation skills are ones you use in your everyday conversations that help you get more of what you want at work.

There are things we do every day, habits that we’ve accidentally acquired, that make us feel and look weak. These habits are so pervasive, you probably don’t even know you have them. Once we shed light on them, you'll be equipped with the tools to change how you're perceived and you will start to feel more confident.

What you think: Confidence starts in your own mind.

If you think of yourself as knowledgeable and capable, other people will start to see you that way. The term “fake it till you make it” is true. Positive self-talk is important for boosting high self-esteem building self-confidence. This is because self-confident people boast healthy self-esteem.

But you can’t stop there. It’s not enough to have a positive self-image, as Gaelle found out; you also have to understand what's going on in groups and with the people around you.  

Gaelle made some assumptions about what's going on in these meetings that are probably not true.

  • It’s probably not about you. It wasn't her they weren’t listening to… Everyone shared ideas that were ignored, and often it was the second or third time an idea was shared that it was finally really heard by someone in the group. Everyone is thinking about their own ideas while only partially listening to yours. This is a fundamental negotiation skill: Understand that everyone wants to look good. Everyone wants to succeed and advance and be recognized. Feel confident that you're not alone.
  • It’s probably not sabotage. It wasn't her that they were interrupting and talking over... They did it to one another constantly. Sabotage does happen, but most of the time people are thinking about themselves, not you. Meeting behavior can be messy, with everyone interrupting and talking over one another in a way that feels unruly and rude. Interrupting is a conversational pattern that differs between genders. Women typically wait for you to finish talking and then talk. This shows respect, as in, “I respect what you’re saying, so I’ll listen to you. When you’re done, I’ll share my thoughts.” Men interrupt one another to gain status, to show that, “Your idea may be okay, but my idea is awesome... Wait until you hear it...”
  • It’s probably not about your idea. It wasn't her idea that other people were ignoring or dismissing, it was more about what she said and how she said it. The words you use and how you use them does make a difference as to whether or not they land with the group. Gaelle shared an idea, felt like her idea was dismissed, and so she let it go. Repetition is important, but so is reinforcement. One thing you can do is enlist an ally to repeat your ideas. When you share an idea and no one hears it, ask your ally to say, “Let’s talk more about Gaelle’s idea.” Men are more likely to run ideas by one another in more casual settings in between meetings. When you have an idea that you’re thinking about sharing in the meeting, take it to two or three people informally to see what they have to say about it. “I’m thinking about this, what do you think?” is socializing an idea so it sounds familiar when you bring it up in the group. 

Understanding what’s really going on will change the way you think about the situation and yourself, especially if you lack of confidence. Then you can focus on what you say and how you say it so that you don't come across as weak.

What you say and what you do: How you say what you say and do what you do can make you appear confident or not.

There are words you use every day that make you sound weak and insecure. There are good reasons that these words have snuck into your everyday conversations. Women are expected to be likeable above all else, so these words soften your message so you can be seen as a nice, easy-to-get-along-with person.

You can make these slight adjustments so you’re still nice but also clear.

  • Using the word “just” makes you sound insecure. Instead of, “I’m just checking in on our meeting time tomorrow,” say, “Are we still on for 9:00 tomorrow?” Instead of, “I just need a bit of your time,” say, “I need five minutes, will that work?"
  • Minimizers like “a bit” and “a little” make you sound weak. It doesn't matter how important the topic is, when you minimize it, you’re minimizing you. Change “Can I take a bit of your time?” to, “Do you have 10 minutes to talk about this?” You can be clear and still be confident.
  • Are you still apologizing? “I’m sorry” makes you sound weak, unless you’re actually apologizing for something. Spend an afternoon with a three-year-old and they’ll probably start asking you, “Why are you sorry?” “I’m sorry to bother you” becomes “Do you have time to talk?” and “I’m sorry if this sounds like a silly idea” becomes “I have an idea.” Because an idea is just an idea, it’s not a fully formed presentation. It’s your very first thought about something.
  • Are you asking instead of telling? You make deadlines sound like a good idea by making it into a question. You ask, “Can you get this done by Friday?” instead of a clear deadline, “I need this by next Friday.” You can still ask, “Is that possible?” You’re telling the other person that you need it by a deadline and then asking if that’s possible instead of just asking. If they say no even after you’ve told them when you need it, you can follow up with one reason and then a question, “The client is expecting this on Friday. What needs to happen so that we can meet the deadline?”

Just imagine for a minute that you’re Gaelle. Now, instead of assuming that you’re not knowledgeable enough, your ideas aren't good enough and you’re not able to thrive at this new higher-level position, you suddenly see that it’s not about what you’re doing wrong. You realize you need to build confidence.

It’s more about understanding what’s happening so you can shift your behavior to be more effective every day. If you wanted to make a presentation, you’d learn to use PowerPoint or Keynote. If you want to be seen as confident, you’ll learn what to think, what to say and what to do that will help you feel and be seen as confident.

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Are you ready to get that raise or promotion you’ve been working so hard to get? You can earn what you deserve! I will teach you how to ask for what you want and feel great about it at Negotiate With Confidence.

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