I attended a dinner party recently where the question was asked, “Which is the greater determinant of success: confidence or talent?” The consensus was that confidence is more important because you can be the most talented person in the world and nobody will know it unless you have the confidence to put yourself out there.
This theory is supported by the outrageous incomes of celebutantes in our culture (those who are “famous for being famous” and lack a particular talent, a la Paris Hilton…) However, most of us desire to share our gifts and talents in a way that is personally meaningful and beneficial to others. Unless you aspire to be like Van Gogh or Emily Dickinson and not experience the success of your life’s work during your actual lifetime, you are going to need to develop the confidence to promote your abilities.
Remember, confidence is not arrogance (I always say healthy self-esteem is midway between Diva and Doormat…) After 20 years of counseling professionals, I recommend the following:
Look the part. Resist the urge to succumb to life’s busyness to the point of neglecting your appearance. Rather than scurrying to your desk hoping nobody notices your bad hair day and sweatpants, take time to put yourself together and project an image that commands respect. You may find that you are more likely to engage in important workplace interactions when your self-esteem is high from looking sharp.
Reflect strength in your body language. Stand tall. Keep your shoulders back. Sit up and maintain good posture during meetings. Be mindful of hand gestures that reveal insecurity or anxiety, such as wringing your hands or fidgeting with your hair. Sit back in your chair rather than perched on the edge. Shake hands firmly. Walk with purpose.
Smile and maintain eye contact. Be mindful of your facial expressions as a huge majority of communication is non-verbal. A broad smile projects confidence and puts others at ease. Strong eye contact reflects self-assuredness, while looking down or around might reveal self-doubt. A grimace, a furrowed brow, or bugging of the eyes, even momentarily can reveal feelings of overwhelm and cause others to lose their confidence in you.
Use assertive language. Use strong words that project confidence rather than passive language (i.e. “I will absolutely do that” versus “Um…I think I might be willing to try that.”)
Avoid self-deprecating humor. While occasionally poking fun of yourself is healthy and shows you are not an egomaniac, self-deprecating humor in the workplace can inadvertently lower others’ opinion of you. By sharing a story where you were a space cadet, you may be teaching others that you are unreliable.
Be your own best cheerleader. Keep your self-talk positive and silence your inner critic. Have a positive mantra, such as, “I am strong and capable”.
Don’t overly apologize. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is a strength that can become a deficit if you apologize for things that were not your fault or were beyond your control. You might unintentionally be pointing the blame your way (think of this as being like apologizing for not making a catch that was thrown miles above your head.)
Be willing to take a risk. Aim high and put yourself out there. Speak up at the meeting, apply for your dream job, go for the promotion or the project that is out of your comfort zone. Be willing to grow and learn new things. The more experiences you have under your belt, the more competent you will feel.
Model yourself after your hero. Have a mentor. Think of how somebody you admire would conduct themselves and model your behavior after his or hers. When trying to behave in an empowered manner, my friend asks herself, “What would Madonna do?” (You might have a different hero…)
And lastly, fake it till you make it. I was extremely nervous to film a television segment for ABC on stress management. The producer asked if I was ready for taping and I lied and said, “Absolutely!” Then the sound guy added, “Actually, Joyce’s microphone is picking up her heartbeat…”
We are all works of progress. It is normal to experience some anxiety and nervousness while growing and learning, so cut yourself some slack and keep forging ahead with your best foot forward!