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Monday, 23 May 2011

Self-confidence... do you have what it takes?

It's all very well learning a trade, or enhancing one's knowledge, or adding skills to your CV... but it's arguable that self-confidence is the most important personal and professional asset that you can ever invest in.

Think about it - who is it that gets to take on the most interesting/challenging tasks and projects at work? Who is it who is taken notice of by people at all levels within their field? Who is it who is considered most favourably for promotions? Chances are, your answers will have one thing in common, and that's people with self-confidence. Whether we admire this trait or not (after all, who doesn't recoil when watching the arrogant young upstarts 'big themselves up' on "The Apprentice"?) - it is true to say that success in the workplace is becoming more and more about confident, live communication. Gone are the days when we could spend an hour carefully crafting a written response to a colleague or a customer. We are expected and required to choose the right words and deliver them in the right order to deliver maximum effect - there and then... In short, these days, it's self-confidence that helps you to get results and helps you to get noticed.

The trouble with self-confidence is that whilst it is a skill like any other that can be learnt, while you're still wearing the confidence 'L plates', you usually stick out like a sore thumb. I used to imagine I had a huge hologram floating above my head, with a flashing neon arrow pointing down at me, saying "she doesn't know what she's talking about!" Probably just imagining it created all manner of non-verbal clues for my highly observant colleagues and customers to spot. What I didn't realise until much later in my career was that I actually had the off switch to that sign all along. It wasn't about having to know everything about everything, or about being able to answer every single question with an A grade exam answer... no, it was simply about having faith in my own ability to share my knowledge, my opinions and my ideas (for what they were worth), and to contribute something valuable to the process of communication: I learnt to listen, to process and to facilitate discussions and problems in a way that harnessed everyone's views and experiences. As soon as I took the self-imposed spotlight off myself, and focused on helping to create dynamic interactions, the pressure lifted and the conversation began to flow

I'm often asked by my coaching clients: "supposing you lack confidence but you are worried about being perceived as a show-off or as arrogant... what then?" In short I usually say that the people who you know, or who you've come across who provide you with anti-role models are extremely useful. The fact that you don't want to become like them is a good start. If you take time to observe them in full flow, you will begin to identify what it is that makes them unpleasant or difficult to deal with. It may be something subtle like the way they look smug when they've got the better of someone, or it may be a more tangible thing, such as interrupting others or finishing their sentences for them. Work out exactly what it is they do or don't do and make a pact with yourself not to emulate it.

Okay, so you're avoiding arrogance, but what do you replace it with? I'd suggest that in the same way, you look out for good examples of people who have a balance of self-confidence with humility. People who are comfortable in their own skins and who don't need to tread on other people's esteem to make themselves feel better or be heard. If you've never looked out for these sorts of people, or observed their behaviour, you're in for a treat! It's extremely heartening to watch someone calmly deal with challenging situations and people in a way which doesn't throw them, which moves things forward and which maintains goodwill on both sides. I'm always looking out for it - when I'm working in the various companies I visit to deliver training, when I'm watching TV, when I'm travelling or when I'm communicating with the various utilites on the telephone. And when I do find it, I usually try to make some sort of appreciative comment (without sounding patronising of course) as I think too few people realise just how important that sort of self-confidence really is

I'm sure most people would agree that the world is changing at a fast pace, and whether we like it or not, there's a greater focus on our personal brand. If we lack self-confidence, we have a weak brand that few people are interested in. If it's a pushy brand that we've created, then only certain people will be impressed. However, a confident, honest and likeable brand is one that the majority of people will come back to time and time again...

If you have any tips to share about how you have developed your self-confidence, I'd love to hear them!

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