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Jean Balfour (Managing Director at Bailey Balfour Consulting) is a global executive coach, facilitator and organization consultant, based in London. She is a regular speaker at Women’s Networks on a variety of topics and recently facilitated a workshop on the topic of ‘Confidence’ for Gibson Dunn’s European female attorneys. Self-confidence is a key factor of success at work for both men and women. It is thought to be one of the ‘x-factor’/‘secret ingredients’ of career success. The lack of self-confidence has been recently talked about as one of the contributing factors that hold women back at work. Among other factors are non-inclusive organisation environment and culture. Here, Jean shares with us her thoughts on confidence related issues in the workplace.
Do you think a confidence gap exist between men and women in the workplace?
I have worked with both men and women dealing with confidence issues. Having worked with some quite confident senior women I see that this is not something that all women face. Having said that, it is more common for women to raise issues of confidence than men.
There is evidence that a confidence gap exists between men and women, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman describe in their book "The Confidence Code". They interviewed highly successful and professionally accomplished women, and all of them admitted to struggle with their self-confidence, e.g. feeling that they do not deserve the promotions they got, what we sometimes call ‘impostor syndrome’. The interesting thing is to note that these feelings are not related to their actual exceptionally high achievements at work. This is a conundrum.
If a man or woman has issues with confidence, is it possible for them to learn to be more confident? Can you teach confidence?
I believe it is possible to learn to feel confident and then act more confidently. You can learn to recognize the thought patterns and feelings that go with them, and ask yourself: is that real? Methods for doing this can be taught. However, change is an on-going journey that requires commitment. I’ve seen clients make a big difference in the way they see themselves, and that translates into real results at work.
Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk discussing the importance of body language in projecting confidence is the second most viewed Ted Talk. Do you believe that body language impact’s people’s confidence?
Research shows that it does, which is quite a remarkable fact. What Amy Cuddy calls ‘power posing’, decreases cortisol which makes us feel less stressed and increases testosterone which makes us feel more powerful and more prone to risk taking. Apparently you only need 2 minutes of power posing to feel good about yourself, confident and authentic. I have coaching clients who have applied the principles and this has made them feel more confident and influenced their interaction with others.
I highly recommend you watch Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are
What practical suggestions can you give to young professionals in developing and maintaining self-confidence?
As a coach, I encourage my clients first to learn to notice the negative thoughts that might be affecting their self-confidence. The realization that “you are not your thoughts” helps people to stop behaving in an unconfident way, even though the feeling of lack of confidence still lingers in the back of our minds. When we notice our limiting thoughts and feelings we are more able of changing the impact they have.
Once you notice your thoughts you can aim to replace them with reality. Look for positive facts, for real achievements. Make a list if that helps you remember what you have achieved.
Christine Lagarde relies on preparation to help her overcome her doubts. Preparing well for meetings where feeling confident matters helps the feeling of mastery.
Asking for help may feel counterproductive, but another person’s perspective often helps to dilute your own negative perspective. And finally, a good way of distracting yourself from your own struggle with self-confidence is helping someone else who needs it. It is catching two birds with one stone!
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