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5 Practices To Boost Your Confidence

Posted on January 6, 2021
Image of a chalk board with a woman standing back-to, in front of it. THe words on the board read: Self-Confidence

I’ve written about the imposter syndrome in the past and one of the major components of it is, especially in women, a lack of confidence. Harvard Business School’s Assistant Professor Catherine Hoffman attributes this lack of confidence in women to gender stereotypes. In an article for HBS, Dina Gerdeman writes about Hoffman’s work, specifically noting that Hoffman argues some of this is related to “occupational sorting” where women tend to choose (or are pushed toward) careers with lower wages than men, but she also attributes this to general confidence levels. For example, after taking a test, Hoffman noted that women when asked about their estimated scores, consistently underreported them versus their male counterparts.

While women tend to be less confident than men in the workplace, these five practices can help to boost confidence. Please note, they also can benefit men who lack confidence.

Take Risks & Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Yes, taking a risk can be scary, but with risk comes great reward. The key is to be prepared to fail. Any time I write about failure, I harken back to the Dyson vacuum cleaner commercial where James Dyson touts the 5,176 times he did not get the vacuum right, not as a series of failures but rather as steps toward success. I believe that it is only a failure when the lessons surrounding the experience are not learned and applied. I am not suggesting taking risks at every turn, rather be strategic about the risks you are willing to take.

Posture is Positive

Body language plays a huge role in demonstrating confidence. I did an exercise in a class a few years ago. I asked my students to stand up and try the superman pose – stand tall, slightly arch your back with their chests thrust forward, hands on their hips. There were of course giggles, etc., but in the end – every single student said they felt a sense of confidence during the pose. You do not want to slouch or sit in a corner. Stand tall, and if seated - sit up straight, lean in toward the person you are speaking with, and make consistent eye contact. This kind of body language conveys strength and confidence to others in the room.

Language Conveys Either Strength or Weakness

There are key words and phrases you want to avoid or shift to ensure you sound confident. For example, avoid the word, “impossible.” Jeff Bezos proposed in the early years of Amazon that they sell books at a deep discount, actually lose money on EVERY book they sold, which in turn meant, operating the company at a loss in an effort to build a brand and something much bigger. Imagine if the word impossible had been bandied about then, well Amazon might not now be worth nearly two trillion dollars. Also, don’t say, “I can’t,” instead say, “I won’t.” Own what you will and won’t do. The word can’t implies you are unable or don’t have the skills to do something. And one other example is to avoid saying, “I don’t understand;” instead say, “I need more information.” Simple shifts in the words and phrases you use can convey so much more confidence.

Understand What You Know and What You Don’t Know

This is critical to building confidence. Begin with what you know and continue to build on those skills and that knowledge base to stay current. This may come from reading articles in trade journals to attending conferences. You also need to understand what you don’t know, and in some cases, NOT ALL, build on those areas as well. I say not all because you don’t have to be an expert at everything. If you are a communications manager, you likely do not need advance accounting skills. This means you also need to understand what areas of weakness or limited knowledge you need to expand upon or further develop. If you are not sure, you can explore this with a mentor or even your manager.

Help Someone Else

Drexel is founded on the idea that we learn by doing, so help others to learn more and grow and in turn, you build your confidence. You can do this formally as a mentor or trainer or more informally when asked, etc.

Ultimately, you gain confidence because you let yourself do so. It is easier to do so when you actively work at it. These five practices will help you grow your confidence over time. But keep in mind that there will be setbacks, so prepare for them. Develop a plan of action, so in a moment where your proposal is not accepted, you don’t feel like a failure. Instead, understand the reasons why it was not accepted and plug those lessons into your next proposal. You also need to remember, while you may have cheerleaders, there will also be naysayers who step in your way. You cannot, and will not, please everyone; you have to find a way to move on and passed those individuals. In some cases that might be easy and others, such is if the naysayer is your new boss, will take more time and effort.

Building confidence is an ongoing journey, one might even say an adventure. Keep your faith in yourself and keep taking another step forward.

Happy New Year,

Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Department Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips, interpersonal-communications