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15 ways to be more confident at work
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In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim explains how to overcome your fears at work and be more assertive. - photo by Kim Giles
Question:

I liked your article about overcoming shyness, but I need help with this at work. I know I am insecure and lack self-confidence at work. I think it is the only place this really shows up. Im pretty confident at home and with friends, but at work I totally hold back. I play it safe and dont comment or share my ideas enough. I dont speak up when things bother me either or when I have a suggestion. At my last performance review my boss mentioned this and said they take my being quiet as being someone with nothing to give or add. How can I speak up with more confidence and not make a fool of myself?

Answer:

People who are confident at work, speak up and take initiative, always get more opportunities, more raises, more promotions and generally go farther in their careers than people who don't. More doors open for people who are assertive, confident and willing to take risks.

Speaking up shows people that you trust yourself and it makes them trust you too. If you stay quiet in the background, it will eventually make people think you have nothing to give. People could also make incorrect assumptions from your silence about who you are and what you think. You must speak up in order to define yourself and show the boss you are invested.

You may be afraid to speak up at work for one of these three reasons:

1. You suffer from a fear of failure. This means you have fear around being embarrassed or looking bad. You are overly afraid of making mistakes and worried about what people think of you. I believe everyone on the planet battles this fear to some degree on a daily basis, the only question is only how bad you have it.

2. You have a fear of success. This means you play small and shoot low because it feels safer than trying harder. You may be afraid of the responsibilities and commitments that would come with shooting higher. You just want to stay in your comfort zone instead of taking on additional challenges. The problem is, people can subconsciously feel this fear and they tend to honor it by passing you by. If you cannot see yourself handling more responsibility, it wont be given to you.

3. You have a fear of loss. This means you are afraid of being mistreated or taken from at work. You may have trust issues and see other people as a threat. This could encourage you to hold back and protect yourself, hold onto your ideas and keep them from others. You may be afraid of being walked on or losing control.

You must learn to break through these fears if you are going to reach your full potential at work. Im going to give you some tips on how to do this, but if this is a big issue for you, I highly recommend getting an executive or life coach. There is also a Fear Assessment on my website I use with business people to help them understand how fear affects their subconscious behavior. You may want to try it.

Here are some tips for being more confident and speaking up at work:

1. Recognize the benefits you are getting from staying in your comfort zone. What do you get to avoid? Who does it punish? What are you afraid of losing if you took on more? Free time? Your excuses? List on paper the benefits you could be getting from your current "chicken" behavior. Then, list the benefits you might gain by changing yourself. What do you really want?

2. Remember that life is a classroom, not a test, which means your value as a person is not on the line. Your value is not changeable and is not determined by your performance at work. This means you have nothing to fear, though you always have much to learn. Work on seeing each situation as a lesson, which is serving your growth, but not attached to your value. Your value is absolute and never changes. This will make you bulletproof and braver at work.

3. Tackle challenges in small doses, one step at a time. Raise the bar slowly. You can handle the next small step out of your comfort zone now. Gear up for that. Take one small step today and then do another tomorrow.

4. Choose to focus on serving others. The law of energy says you can feel only one emotion at a time. If you choose to focus on love and serving others, it is impossible to feel fear. How can you make your work about giving to others and not about you?

5. Gain knowledge. Knowledge often eliminates fear. What skills would make you feel more confident at work? Sign up for a class to improve those skills. Marie Curie said, Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that (you) may fear less. Join Toast Masters to help you with speaking or take a class on better project management.

6. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. What are you good at? How can you use those abilities to the fullest? Can you use them more?

7. Accept failure as a part of success. Barbara Sher, the author of "Wishcraft," said, If you try and fail, you wont feel as bad as you think. Youll gain experience, education, contacts and self-confidence. Anyone who has accomplished great things has been through failures. I tell my clients to fail faster instead of playing it safe. Each failure moves you closer to success.

8. Focus on the present. Fear is always about the future. Stay in the present and focus on what you can do today. Who do you want to be in this moment? If you focus on your whole project or your whole career you will get overwhelmed. Just focus on being your best today.

9. Visualize yourself comfortably handling more responsibility. If you cant see it, you cant achieve it. Visualize yourself carrying responsibilities with ease and confidence. I can't stress enough the power of visualization.

10. Before you make a comment, check yourself by asking Why am I bringing this up?"

  • Is it motivated by ego and my need to get validation or feel important?
  • Is it helpful? Does it add value to the company or prevent problems? Or is it just complaining?
  • Is it true? Can I back it up? Have I done my research? Do I have a solution in mind?
  • Is this the right setting to share this? Would it be better handled in private or with another person?
11. Wait for the right time and place to speak up. Bring this concern to the right person at the appropriate time. Ask if he or she is open to talking about it now. If he or she is focused on something else, wait.

12. Always ask questions and listen to others first. This will give you more information that is always helpful before you speak, and it will help you know how to say it the right way. It also shows that you are open to their ideas, and it makes them feel respected, and that will make them more open to listening to you.

13. Ask permission to share your thoughts. Would you be open to letting me share a few ideas on this? Asking permission shows people you honor and respect them and it also makes sure you have their attention.

14. Speak up in a respectful and effective way. Explain your motivation for bringing this up. Use "I" statements to explain your position, avoid using "you" statements, which can feel like an attack and are presumptuous. Also, dont ramble. Keep it short and concise. This shows that you honor everyone's time.

15. Show that you are open to a discussion on the topic and even being wrong. Be open and willing to bend, hear opposing ideas and learn. You don't think you know everything nor have to be right. If this person disagrees with you, you could go back to step 12 and follow the last steps again. You can do this over and over until you both feel understood and a good solution is found.

If you practice all these, I promise your confidence to speak up at work will increase.

You can do this.
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