Increasing self-confidence at work should be a priority. Not only can low self-confidence make you anxious and unhappy, it can also hold you back from pursuing career opportunities and realising your full potential.
Bad news first – increasing self-confidence at work is a process (sorry, no magic fixes). The good news, however, is that your decision to face the issue will at least make you feel instantly relieved, because you are finally doing something about it.
Below are some ‘quick-win’ actions, as well as some longer-term habits, to help build self-confidence. (Note: if you suffer from severe confidence issues, it may also be appropriate to seek therapeutic support such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.)
It is all too easy to ignore the many compliments we receive at work. For example, in appraisals and feedback sessions, although ten flattering comments may be made about us, chances are we will not remember any of them. Instead we just focus on the one or two slightly negative things that are mentioned.
Consciously begin to take all the compliments you receive on board to address this balance and to remind yourself how you genuinely add value.
Confidence is often about feeling prepared when you are out of your depth. There are things you can do to actively address this. For example, if you are nervous about an important call, make sure you have read and re-read the relevant papers beforehand to make you feel more confident about it.
If you know you have certain gaps in your skills or knowledge that contribute to low self-confidence, sign up for a training course to fill these in and help you feel better.
Identify situations or people that make you feel worse about yourself, and actively avoid them. This will help to maintain your confidence.
For example, walk away from the gossip-filled conversation with negative colleagues that leaves you feeling bad about yourself. Go for a walk instead or catch up with a friend who makes you laugh.
Observe people who have the kind of confidence you admire and act as if you have it too. This can work well to temporarily boost your confidence when faced with a daunting situation, like a difficult client meeting. For example, stand straighter and keep your head up. When speaking, make eye contact and speak slowly. You may be surprised at how much better you feel.
If low self-confidence is affecting you at a deeper level, here are some ways to steadily start building longer-term self-confidence.
Many lawyers compare themselves to colleagues and consequently feel like imposters, waiting to somehow be ‘found out’ at any moment. Although this is very common, it is not particularly constructive.
Incidentally, it is also not true. Your peers are exactly that – your equals. Every lawyer has their own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you are exceptionally good at teamwork, whereas others are better at client-engagement, and so on. Become crystal clear on what makes you great in your own unique way (make a list if it helps) and stop telling yourself you are not good enough.
Observe yourself – how harshly do you speak to yourself when things go wrong? If you do not perform well on a matter do you tell yourself you are useless and careless?
Actively turn that internal voice into a kinder one. Instead, congratulate yourself on what went well and decide what could go better next time. This sounds simple, but it is a hugely effective habit to cultivate for the long-term.
Practice makes perfect! Step out of your comfort zone more and steadily build your confidence by trying new things.
Pick a task you have been avoiding because you do not think you can do it. Now, break it up into manageable parts and go for it! You may not do it brilliantly first time but that is okay, simply take the learning points on board for next time and carry on practising. Experience will help you get better and also to grow in confidence.
Permission to fail
To help with practising new things (above), give yourself permission to fail. Rather than hold yourself to an unattainable standard of perfection all the time, allow ‘good’ to be good enough for a while, especially when you are tackling difficult things, and allow yourself to make mistakes.
Remember, we are all human, we are all learning, and we all have room for improvement. That is what makes our jobs interesting.
Ultimately, a certain amount of self-doubt is healthy and a good lawyer needs to question themselves to ensure they have not missed anything. However, do not confuse this with low self-confidence, which should not remain unchecked because it can limit your career (and your enjoyment of it) in a very real way.
Nazish Bhaiwala is a career coach at Red Arbre and a former employment solicitor. She helps professionals explore how to be happier in their careers and to be more motivated and effective at work’.