Building confidence requires real conversation, not surface accolades. It starts by belief – belief in yourself and, at the same time, others believing in you. Then it’s all about understanding. If you’re a manager, then it requires getting into detail and working a few levels below the obvious insecurity of someone to understand what scares him/her. Or what puts him/her off confident behaviour.
This same process can apply to members of a family, sports team, social group, whatever – just as much as it can apply to any team or group in the workplace.
The good news is that building confidence and competence go hand-in-hand. Confident employees are more likely to try new behaviours and approaches, which in turn breed creativity and more success.
No one wants to feel like a project. So, managers must connect with people and really listen to what their direct reports are saying. Listen to the verbal cues they give about their lack of self-confidence and then treat them respectfully and perhaps show them how they can be.
‘You’ve got potential’ or ‘You’re doing really well’ will fall on deaf ears to someone who doesn’t believe it. Or thinks it’s what you say to everyone. Be as specific as possible with examples when giving praise. Above all, mean it and say why.
Take note of people’s best skills and ask them to share these (along with other best practices) with colleagues. Make it a cultural thing to frequently share people’s skillsets and note who’s exceptional at what. Not who’s better than someone else – that’s unhelpful. What is key is the sharing of those positive attributes that will help a group, team, project or indeed the whole business. If people know, actually believe, that they have a talent at something specific, they’ll be prouder, more outgoing, more involved and, unequivocally, more confident.
When an employee lacks confidence, even the smallest mistake will create or affirm his/her feelings of inadequacy. Help employees to realise that any failure or mistakes are a step to success. It’s OK to make some mistakes and to experience sub-optimal outcomes from time to time. Teaching people to fail forward and fall forward is the hallmark of many successful businesses.
A confident workforce is a productive one. Employees who have confidence (not, one must stress, arrogance) in their own ability to achieve the desired outcomes are motivated and more likely to work through initial setbacks.
It’s particularly interesting that the confidence level of employees has a direct positive impact on the success of any business. Negativity, whether caused by rumour or reality is a confidence killer. Both can be managed. If an organisation has a culture of relative openness and valid lines of communications, then there’s a strong likelihood that people will never believe rumour without validation.
Validation is important in any aspect of building confidence. We need to know that what we believe we’re doing is OK and why or, if it isn’t, why it isn’t and how it can be enhanced.
There's nothing worse than an employee feeling like s/he has no idea what they’re doing. Many people do jobs in which some aspects are not successful. Although some level of insecurity is expected when starting a new job or assignment, an employee cannot be confident in his/her work if s/he has not received adequate instruction in how to do it. Obvious? Maybe, but this is a constant issue in many organisations.
Build confidence by telling an employee when s/he is doing a good job. Again, obvious? Yes, but it doesn’t happen enough. Provide thorough feedback on all aspects of job performance. Although it can be tempting to focus on the negative, positive feedback is essential to improve anyone’s confidence.
Reward employees by implementing an employee recognition programme to publicly recognise top performers and include positive comments in the employee's performance evaluation. Feedback doesn't have to be formal to be effective — it can be as simple as showing appreciation for an someone's performance with a simple thank you. But it has to be sincere and it always has to be accompanied by specific reasons as to why it’s being given and valued.
Never underestimate the importance of communication within a company. Even in a small business — where employees are typically much more informed than in larger organisations — full and open communication about strategy helps to boost employee confidence in the company’s objectives – as well as areas that require improvement. Hiding truths can be damaging so, if there is bad news, share it along with plans to manage the issue. Then, bad news may become manageable. Open communication leads to a confident workforce.
Confidence also arises from the frank discussion of professional inadequacies. These should be acknowledged without fear (we’re all of us less good at something within our remit) and, as indicated, strengths should be lauded. The Disney Company found not so long ago that the business spent too much time dwelling on employee downsides. The CEO found that when staff evaluations were done, 20% of review time was spent talking about the things people did well and 80% on what needed to be improved. That, he pointed out, was ineffective and a waste of time. He instructed that time and energy be spent helping people determine what they were good at doing and aligning their responsibilities with those capabilities. The business became more positive and successful.
Steve Jobs, and indeed other captains of industry, have remarked one way that no business should ever assume that its people know how good they are.
Timing is everything when it comes to telling people how good they are and it’s worth repeating that what’s said has to have value. Managers reward outstanding employee behaviour as soon as it’s noticed. Immediacy works wonders.
Doing one’s best and worrying less helps (easier said than done but worthy of trying). Focussing on success, even small successes, helps. Being as positive as possible helps. And, by the way, nobody, is positive 24/7. Acknowledging and letting go of small mistakes helps. Relaxing, playing and reflecting all help.
Confidence is infectious. It must be. It’s a good thing. People thrive in confident environments provided each individual feel that s/he is part of that environment. Nobody can be excluded. And, of course, it can’t be stressed enough that the environment must never create that poisonous barrel that is worthy of the title ‘arrogance’.
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