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Are we afraid to be seen as confident?


Confidence is a product of our thoughts and actions that is rooted not in our ‘actual’ ability, but in our perceived ability to succeed. As such, it is not a constant.

There are things that we can do to influence our levels of confidence and become resilient to the things that tend to dent it.

This is particularly true for those of us who work in communications, PR and marketing. The process of pitching ideas is paramount to our field, either to gain new business or simply get our ideas heard with stakeholders.

In my experience, we often find ourselves being spokespeople for fellow colleagues, our customers or the public and having to take a hard line. It can be tough at the best of times, never mind if you are feeling less confident about your abilities and doubt your convictions.

However, there is a cultural consideration at play here too. In a 2015 YouGov study, only 16% of UK respondents claimed to be ‘very confident’ (perhaps unsurprisingly, this was 35% in the US) – and that figure dropped further still in younger respondents.

Perhaps at the root of this is a belief that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, a much less desirable trait.

In reality, the distinction is clear. One is rooted in humility, the other in hubris. I believe that misconception serves to undermine true confidence where it exists.

In the past, I have shirked at being called confident in the workplace as I feared it meant I was being too outspoken.

When confidence is well channelled it becomes your safety net, and gives your voice authority. It is a vital tool for our profession and knowing how to ride the fluctuations can help you to use it to your advantage.

Take the rough with the smooth

You will have good days and bad days. You will probably have good jobs and bad jobs.

Negative experiences can live long in the memory and damage our perceived ability, and our belief that we will be able to succeed in future tasks.

The most important thing that I have learned in the last few years is to alter my own definition of success.

You could argue that our over-reliance on ‘key performance indicators’ and a historical obsession with things like AVE (gulp) is a by-product of an education system that values outcomes and results over experience and learning. I was certainly guilty of measuring myself by numbers.

While there is a place for statistical measures, a far more fruitful measure of personal success has come through focusing on learning. By doing so, failure is just a part of the process and as such, does not dent my confidence in the same way. If things work out the way I hope, then I know that I can do more than I thought. If things do not work out, I learn that I can cope more with adversity. Either way, I am better off.

In the last few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of new faces, people at different stages of their career and professional development, including the opportunity to work with a dynamic, youthful team at Grayling Midlands. Talking to this team about their work and ambition, and seeing how they draw confidence from situations, was the inspiration behind this blog.

Top tips for lasting confidence

As such, I’ve listed six tips to help you gain, and then maintain, confidence in your ability:

1) Ignore any advice that says to ‘fake it until you make it’. Be genuine. If you fake it, you will always doubt your actual ability. Be honest, have the confidence to be vulnerable. Your colleagues or teams will appreciate it far more than you trying to blag your way.

2) Surround yourself with positive people who you respect, both at home and at work. Hold on to what they say.

3) Talk less, smile more*. This is something I needed to know sooner. A combination of youthful exuberance and chip-on-shoulder desire to prove myself made me think confidence was the person who spoke most. Sometimes, less is more.

4) Solid process can breed confidence. Knowing that you are on top of everything is a great feeling – so invest in what works for you, whether it is to-do lists, a well-structured calendar, or a clean inbox.

5) Start with marginal gains. It is something you hear a lot about in sports, but applies to all. By setting achievable growth goals you can tick off each step of your progress.

6) Allow for the irrational. A lot of the above is rational, but our feelings and confidence can be shaped by the irrational. I have a suit that I think is lucky for pitches. If it gives me a boost on the day, why not?

Ignore everything above

That said, they are just the things that worked for me. There is no one-size-fits-all advice here. I am acutely aware that I write from a position of privilege, with society being such that a white male in early thirties has significantly fewer obstacles to being confident and assertive.

So over to you. Where do you draw your confidence from? I would love to hear from you.

*Yes, one for the Hamilton fans...

#confidence #communications

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