Confidence. It’s a state of mind, a way of being and a belief in one’s self. We know it when we see it. It’s courage, energy, self-assuredness and a comfort in one’s own skin.
Lack of confidence can stem from a number of factors—lack of knowledge, lack of experience, aversion to risk or change, or fear of looking foolish, to name a few. Depending on the situation, a lack of confidence can hold us back in our careers too, resulting in stagnation and missed opportunities for advancement.
Perhaps you’re extremely confident in certain aspects of your job, but not in others. Performing a new task or executing an initiative differently than what’s been done in the past can cause confidence to wane. Fear of public speaking, for example, is one of the most common areas where individuals lack confidence, regardless of where they are in their careers. A common misperception is that confidence is a fixed skill — you either have it or you don’t. This, however, is false. Let’s return to the example of public speaking. Rarely is someone born a fantastic speaker. Those who are good at public speaking have generally practiced this skill over and over again to build mastery. Whether it is speaking in front of groups or another scenario that causes butterflies in your stomach, confidence can be built by asking yourself these five questions.
Question #1 – What does confidence look like for me? Envision what you look like when you are very confident of your abilities. This includes your frame of mind, posture, tone of voice, etc. Think about a time when you moved toward a goal without hesitation. What did you believe about yourself in this situation? What factors were in place that bolstered your confidence? Ask a trusted friend or colleague when they’ve observed you at your very best.
Question #2 – What’s the worst that can happen? Think about why you lack confidence in a particular area and especially what you fear the most. Once you have identified the concern, you will be able to determine if it is realistic and map out the steps to take to minimize the stress and increase your confidence moving forward.
Question #3 – What can I learn from colleagues who are very confident? Who within your network is very confident in the area where you wish to build your confidence? What makes them successful? People who are good at what they do usually like talking about it and, often, can provide helpful advice.
Question #4 – Is there a knowledge gap that needs to be filled? Be candid with yourself. What is the basic level of knowledge needed to become skilled, and as a result, more confident? Beefing up your knowledge through books, articles, web sites, blogs or webinars may be all that is needed to build your confidence in a particular area. In some instances, more comprehensive training and/or additional education may be required.
Question #5 – Where can I achieve a small win that I can build upon? Building confidence in a given area is rarely achieved through one isolated incident. Building a solid foundation of confidence will likely require multiple attempts. For the person afraid of public speaking, maybe the first step is giving a brief report at a staff meeting and gradually building up to a longer presentation. After achieving a small success, where can you find opportunities for additional practice to build that confidence muscle? Be sure to remember building confidence takes time and there will be a learning curve. Each new attempt is the chance to build confidence incrementally.
Finally, as you begin to build your confidence, identify a friend, family member, or co-worker who will hold you accountable and help celebrate your success. Finding a partner to support you in your journey and using these questions as a framework will help you to build your confidence muscle moving forward. Where will you begin?
Rachel Loock is a career and executive coach with the Executive MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.