- The average workplace is full of confidence killers, both internal and external.
- Low confidence can deter employees from sharing ideas with their teams, causing their companies to miss out on potential innovations.
- Practice proven confidence-building techniques to improve your work performance and feel better about yourself.
- This article is for professionals looking to boost their confidence at work by overcoming common confidence challenges.
Some people seem to have it all together. You know the type: the peppy employee who is always ready to share their ideas or take on new assignments. Their can-do attitude convinces those around them – including themselves – that they’re an asset. They embrace a state of being that many of us struggle to find: confidence.
Too many employees struggle with low confidence and let self-doubt hold them back from sharing their ideas and reaching their full potential at work. However, confidence is as much a skill as it is an outlook. Like any skill, you can learn to be confident if you put in the work.
We’ll explore five of the top confidence-killers and what you can do to beat them.
5 confidence killers in the workplace
To succeed in business – and life – it’s essential to avoid or overcome confidence-killing beliefs, habits and situations.
High-performing employees often pressure themselves to attain ridiculous, unrealistic standards, and they sometimes become discouraged when they fail to achieve them, said Helene Lerner, author of The Confidence Myth (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015) and founder of WomenWorking.com, a career website for women.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Every time you fall short on a project, ask yourself if you gave it your all. If you did, know that you are human and can’t do everything perfectly – and accept that.
“We have to stop the negative chatter and tell ourselves our best is good enough,” Lerner said. “Make it an inner mantra.”
Being micromanaged can make you feel like you aren’t good enough. Why else would the boss nitpick and tell you exactly how to complete a task?
In most cases, you probably aren’t doing anything wrong. Lerner noted that fear is usually underneath controlling behavior.
“[Your boss’s] micromanaging probably has more to do with how that person feels about [themself], not you,” she said.
If you’re genuinely confident, no one can tear you down. A bad boss might strike some insecurities in you, but remind yourself how far you’ve come and where you want to go.
Disengagement at work
One of the most common reasons for feeling disconnected from your job – and lacking confidence in your abilities – is that your work doesn’t leverage your skills. Everyone has talents and abilities, and if you’re not using them in your job, you may want to consider other opportunities, Lerner suggested.
Another option is to maintain an optimistic attitude toward your performance at work. If you’re feeling indifferent, try a new perspective or approach. Maybe you fell into a rut or a routine that drains you. Switch it up; take a different approach that hones your passions. What can you do differently that might make your job more enjoyable? Don’t be afraid to discuss ways to boost your workplace engagement with your employer.
Fear of failure
Everyone experiences fear – some more than others. It’s crucial, though, to face fear head-on.
“Fear can be so crippling that it holds people back in ways they don’t even realize, whether it be fear of speaking up in meetings, so the employee is seen as someone who doesn’t contribute much value, or fear of being yourself, instead trying to emulate a boss and never learning to really own what is unique and special about you,” said Heather Monahan, founder of career mentoring group #BossinHeels and author of Confidence Creator (Boss in Heels, 2018).
Of course, you want to “get it right” in your career, but your fear of “failing” shouldn’t stand in your way of trying something new. A project may not turn out as planned, and you may make mistakes. Lerner said that as long as you learn from those experiences, you haven’t truly failed.
Uncooperative or critical colleagues
Working with rude, arrogant or otherwise unpleasant colleagues can lower job satisfaction, especially if their negativity is directed at you. As with micromanagers, Lerner urges professionals not to take the behavior too personally, but she advises making an effort to work things out with your colleague and attempt to heal the workplace conflict.
“Clean up your side of the street,” she said. “Is there anything you are doing to contribute to the [negative] situation? If so, take appropriate action.”
Tip: Friendly workplace competition can be healthy, but if your relationship with office rivals goes sour, explore options for distancing yourself from your adversary.
Techniques to build confidence
There are several conscious, actionable approaches you can take to build confidence.
1. Cut out negative language.
Monahan advised being mindful of how you speak and what you say. For instance, rather than apologizing, say, “Excuse me,” or “Thank you.” Instead of saying, “I feel this will work,” when pitching an idea, say, “This will work because …”
“Firing certain expressions from your vocabulary will create a quick shift for you,” Monahan said, adding that there’s no need for self-deprecating humor. While it might seem innocent and healthy to laugh at yourself, it hurts your confidence. When you present yourself as innocent, you’re sending a signal to others that you see yourself as lacking relevant experience, and revealing these thoughts can be dangerous.
Instead of downplaying your intelligence or contributions, present your ideas and actions without questioning your worth. Rather than trying to land a joke, such as “here comes another idea from a less qualified person,” present your idea how an admired co-worker would – without any qualifiers or self-deprecating humor.
If you feel you should acknowledge your relative inexperience, position that knowledge gap as a strength. You could say something like, “My fresh perspective on this topic gave me an idea that’s out of the box, but I feel deeply confident it could be the solution we all need.”
Take what makes you feel unsure, and imagine it as an advantage instead of an obstacle. Your confidence will follow.
Key takeaway: Negative self-talk hurts your confidence and can impact how others perceive you. Skip the self-deprecation and focus on your strengths.
2. Practice how you present yourself.
We all know the saying “dress for success.” How you dress, do your hair and style yourself can impact your confidence. Many people feel their best when they look their best.
This doesn’t mean you should show up in a suit every day. Clothing, makeup, shoes and accessories can be a form of self-expression. Follow your office’s dress code, but look for ways to incorporate your style, and take a few extra minutes getting ready in the morning to boost your confidence.
Your posture and tone can also display confidence. Try to maintain a healthy posture while sitting, and speak up while talking during a meeting. When we’re nervous, we tend to shrink, both physically and with our voice, but this behavior displays a lack of confidence while further killing your confidence.
3. Try some positive affirmations.
Practicing positive affirmations can sound a little cheesy, but starting your workday getting into a positive mindset can help you feel more confident. Practice classic positive affirmations by looking in the mirror (perhaps in your car before walking into work) and repeating phrases such as “I am smart and capable,” “My thoughts and ideas matter,” or “I am ready to conquer this day.”
List five strengths every morning to remind yourself of things you excel at in your role. Some people even like to write their strengths on Post-it notes to put on their desk or the side of their computer. They glance at their strengths when they start feeling self-doubt creep up.
4. Set goals for yourself.
Building confidence is a gradual process. You probably won’t walk into work one day and suddenly feel all your anxiety and self-doubt disappear. Instead, set goals to help you progress along your journey.
If you’re generally shy and quiet during meetings, a worthy goal could be to share one comment, question or idea during each meeting you attend. Start with a smaller meeting, like a team or department meeting where you already know everyone, and work your way up to full staff meetings.
Another possible goal is finding someone new to connect with each week. Confident employees tend to be outgoing and active within their workplace. You may also make some valuable connections or even new friends at work. Say hello to someone in the breakroom, and start a conversation. Go out of your way to send a Slack message to someone to compliment them on their latest project or congratulate them on a big win. Building a rapport with the people you work with can help put you at ease and increase your confidence.
Tailor your goals to your unique challenges. You can always start small and work up to more intimidating actions.
Tip: It’s essential to set workplace friendship boundaries. Don’t overshare, for example, and never trash-talk your boss.
5. Take time to destress.
Work can be hectic, and many people suffer from workplace burnout. Take some time to check in with yourself throughout the day. If you’re feeling the effects of workplace stress, try some relaxing breathing exercises, such as the 4/7/8 breathing technique. To use the 4/7/8 technique, breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds and then exhale for eight seconds. Breathing exercises can combat anxiety and help you refocus.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another excellent tool for releasing stress during the workday. This is a form of meditation where you work through your body, tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time. Pay attention to how each muscle group feels as you tense and release. Office workers tend to hold a lot of tension in their shoulders and neck. Releasing this tension can help you feel more calm and confident.
Max Freedman and Sammi Caramela contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.