As a huge fan of The Skimm, I have always admired Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin’s career confidences — believing they possessed a superhuman ability to never worry about what others thought or let risks intimidate them. During their podcast’s first episode, they, along with Whitney Wolfe Herd, humbly opened up about fearing failure and moments when harsh criticism stung. For whatever reason, I was shocked to learn that they were, you know, actual humans that experienced self-doubt from time to time. Although each of the women related to this sentiment, they’ve nonetheless found the confidence to boldly persevere. While confidence is considered one of the keys to success, their discussion prompted me to consider how [it] is actually built if you don’t naturally exude it.
When I Google searched “ways to build workplace confidence,” I found numerous lists that included suggestions like speak-up, seek out opportunities that challenge you, or eliminate negative self-talk. This is good advice and all, but it’s a little chicken before the egg. During my entry-level years at a Fortune 500 company, I was often timid and afraid to “lean in.” Even when I knew that was what I should have been doing, it wasn’t always that easy for me. So what happens when you’re too afraid to #JustDoIt at work, but need to do something to beef up that self-esteem?
Start practicing outside of the workplace. Practicing “business” isn’t exactly the same as practicing a sport in preparation for game day, but the concept is similar. There are many skills used in your everyday personal life that can be applied to the professional setting. Creating a low-risk environment removes a lot of the barriers associated with even trying in the first place. As confidence grows in a safe zone, you’ll feel more comfortable taking more risks in the real world. Here are some ways I’ve crawled before I balled:
Lay the Foundation: Education.
Have you ever had to present information you didn’t know very well? Showing up to the party underdressed never does much for one’s confidence. When I graduated college as a psych major, I had almost no experience working in Excel (let’s be real — I had zero). That didn’t fare well when I landed a business analyst role that required heavy use of it. Knowing I had this gap, I picked up Excel for Dummies at the local Wal-Mart and asked a friend to tutor me. Once I was comfortable using the tool itself, I became far more confident in my ability to not just analyze information, but also share it with others.
While a lot of training and education occurs on the job, there are plenty of courses available online/at local community colleges that can be taken if your knowledge base or tactical skill set is falling short of a role’s requirements. Nowadays, I will flip and reverse ANY vlookup that comes my way.
Find your Voice.
“Speaking up” can be incredibly intimidating, even when you have a game-changing idea or know all the facts. So much of being a professional requires you to be an advocate for yourself and the information/ideas you stand behind. My biggest personal barrier is delivering formal communication. There are 567,363 other things I would rather do than stand in front of a group of people and present anything. But coincidentally enough, this is something I’ve had to do many times for work, and it’s always felt like an out-of-body experience (profuse sweating, blacking out, etc.). Even though I’ve been able to “fake it,” it’s not something I’ve grown into feeling comfortable doing.
After years of vowing to join Toastmasters, I finally took the plunge this past year, and I wish I’d done it sooner. The two major benefits of the organization are its fail-safe environment and method of improving broad communication skills (informal, interpersonal, interview) and styles (negotiation, storytelling). During each meeting, you get the opportunity to convey a message in front of people who are both encouraging and also working toward the same goal as you are — improving communication and confidence. All of what is practiced in Toastmasters can be directly applied to the workplace, whether it’s providing constructive feedback or even using proper grammar.
If Toastmasters isn’t something you’re interested in, other ways to verbally put yourself out there include: becoming a member of a local board or committee, hosting a dinner for friends and providing an informal welcome toast, participating in an open mic night, attending your community’s town hall meeting, or practicing a presentation on trusted friends.
Smart risk-taking can be hard to do when your performance review is what’s actually on the line if it doesn’t end up being so “smart.” If you’re reluctant to take risks at work, consider creating your own mini-employment to build decision-making skills. Starting a blog and an Etsy shop have been two simple ways I have owned something from start to finish. Launching these sites has required me to determine all of the details behind set-up and execution, along with assessing the risks and investments. Not only that, but having to “market” these items has challenged me to overcome any associated bashfulness (a.k.a. learn how to self-promote) and look beyond what others may think. Small business or large business, they operate under many of the same principles.
Building confidence can definitely be a slow progression, with one accomplishment at a time. Because of this, I always try to be realistic and gentle with myself. I may never be the next Sheryl Sandberg, but that’s okay, because I take pride in knowing that I am working toward overall progress. Only YOU have the ability to define your own success.
Ashley and Chloe are Nashville-based bloggers and the creators of Brunch Speak. While working together at their 9-5 job, they realized they would much rather spend their recreational time focusing on what matters MOST to them — inspiring others to live an authentic life. Their main goal is to share relatable experiences that enable personal growth and development. At Brunch Speak, they are committed to “keeping it real” and providing a few laughs along the way. To participate in the conversation where nothing is off the table, visit Ashley and Chloe at their website or on Instagram and Twitter.
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