By Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD
Confident people are self-motivated, have high self-esteem, and are willing to take calculated risks. Confidence is also the personality trait most responsible for an individual’s ability to deal well with organizational change.
I’ve been studying confidence (especially as it relates to dealing with change) for the past 25 years, and I’ve seen first-hand how it contributes to a successful career.
Here are Five Ways to Build Your Self-confidence:
1.Play to your strengths. I once gave a speech to the senior management team of a software company in Silicon Valley that was relocating out of state. A few days later, the company president telephoned me to say, “I have an administrative assistant who is probably the brightest, most creative person I've worked with. The problem is, she's married and can't move her family. I was wondering if you would see her for a private coaching session so that when she applies for a new job, she will come across as terrific as she really is. I'll gladly pay for the session.”
Of course, I agreed, and looked forward to meeting this talented woman. When she came into my office I said, “This is a real pleasure. I've heard so many terrific things about you. Tell me about yourself. What is it that you do exceptionally well? What would you most want a prospective employer to know about you?”
The woman was silent for several seconds. Finally, she sighed and said, “I really don't know. I do a lot of things well, but when I do them, I don't notice.”
Competence, strangely enough, bears little relationship to confidence. The fact that you do your job extremely well does not ensure that you are also confident of your abilities. It is only when you are aware of your competence that you become confident.
My favorite tip for increasing awareness of your strengths and talents is especially effective right before a job interview or any other important event in which you want to project your most confident self. First, think of a past success that filled you with pride and a high sense of achievement. (This doesn’t have to be taken from your professional life?although I do encourage clients to keep a “success log” so that they can easily recall their successes.) Then recall the feeling of power and certainty you felt. Remember or imagine how you looked and sounded. Recalling that genuine emotion will help you embody it as you enter a meeting room or walk up to the podium.
2. Watch your posture
You know that the way you feel affects your body. If you are feeling insecure or depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look down. If you are upbeat and assured you tend to hold yourself erect and expand your chest. But did you know that the reverse is also true? Your posture has a powerful impact on your emotions and on the way that others perceive you.
Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that simply holding your body in expansive, “high-power” poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone?the hormone linked to power and dominance?and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, the researchers found that these powerful postures lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. They also found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're saying.
So before you go into a situation in which you want to project your most confident self, start by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back, widening your stance and holding your head high. Then put your hands on your hips (think “Wonder Woman” pose). Just by holding your body in this posture, you will begin to feel surer of yourself and to project self-assuredness.
3. Choose to be an optimist
In Chinese, the word for crisis combines two characters: One is the symbol for danger, the other for opportunity. So, is the glass half-empty or half-full? It’s both. The only difference is where you focus your attention.
A positive outlook has long been acknowledged to be a crucial part of high-level achievement and confidence. In today’s fast-moving, competitive business environment, a positive, upbeat, “can-do” attitude is vital for success.
Choosing not to dwell on negativity doesn’t mean you should be oblivious to potential danger. Rather, you can analyze situations for both positive and negative aspects, develop strategies to minimize negatives and optimize positives, and then focus on the upside of the situation.
Spending too much time worrying about possible negative outcomes is a waste of mental energy that saps your enthusiasm and confidence and makes it more difficult to see the potential opportunities in the situation.
4. Loosen up
At another program, for a utility company on the East Coast, I was asked to speak twice: Once in the morning and again in the afternoon. At the first session, I had just finished talking about the growing uncertainty that all organizations face when an audience member asked, “If everything is uncertain, what happens to strategic planning? How can you make any plans for an unknown future?”
It was a good question, and I answered it by using the two sessions as an example. I replied, “I was hired to put on two identical programs today, but you and I both know that it is impossible for them to be identical even though I will use the same set of Power Point slides for both presentations. The differences will be determined by the makeup of the two audiences?how many attend, what their energy level is, what questions they ask, maybe even what they had for lunch. And, of course, I too will be slightly different depending on my energy level and what I had for lunch, etc. I don’t know how the afternoon session will be different, but I’m certain that the unexpected will happen.”
I continued, “As you prepare for the future, you need to set goals and make plans while taking into account a multitude of contingencies in a volatile environment. Then you have to understand that despite your best efforts, the future may not play out the way you planned, and you will most probably be required to reorient as conditions change, frequently in ways you never anticipated.”
Some people are naturally more flexible and better at coping with and adapting to a complex, always changing reality than others. (I call these individuals “change adept.”) They’ve learned that, in chaotic times, the trick is not to brace for change, but to loosen up and learn how to roll with it.
You can build resilience and confidence by honing your ability to commit to a course of action while, at the same time staying flexible enough to alter behaviors and attitudes quickly to support a new direction.
5. Embrace failure
In a television interview, Whoopie Goldberg described how she got her first one-woman show in New York. She was performing her nightclub act and (the director) Mike Nichols was in the audience. He came backstage and offered to create a show for her in a Broadway theater. Whoopie said she didn’t know if that was such a good idea. What if she were lousy? Mike asked if she’d ever been lousy before and Whoopie said “Sure!”
His response was, “Then it’s no big deal. You’ll just be lousy on Broadway.”
To me, that reply was brilliant.
I urge my audiences to appreciate that growth comes as much from failure as it does from success. One project manager I interviewed summed it up when he said, “If this venture fails, it will still be worth all the time and effort I’ve put into it for the past 18 months. Just look at everything I’ve learned.”
To facilitate this kind of productive thinking, the United States Army developed the After Action Review. AARs are now used by organizations around the world to help teams learn from their mistakes, prevent future errors, and find new solutions to problems.
Basically, the AAR process assembles people who were involved in a planned project and asks them to answer a series of questions:
1. What was the desired outcome?
2. What was the actual outcome?
3. Why were there differences between what I wanted and what I achieved?
4. What did I learn?
5. What would I do differently next time?
You can conduct your own private AAR around any important event that didn’t turn out the way you hoped it would.
Fear of failure is a huge obstacle to developing and projecting self-confidence. But when you know that your failures can’t stop you, you’ll increase your confidence and realize that nothing can stop you!
You can learn more about becoming more confident at these AMA seminars:
About the Author(s)
Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD is an executive coach, leadership consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt How You Lead, and most recently, The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit: http://www.ckg.com/