Building confidence requires a real conversation
Building confidence requires real conversation, not surface accolades. It starts with belief – belief in yourself and, at the same time, others believing in you. Then it’s all about understanding. If you’re a manager, it requires getting into detail and working a few levels below the apparent insecurity of someone to understand what scares them. Or what puts them 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 breed creativity and more success.
No one wants to feel like a project. So, managers must connect with people and listen to their direct reports. Listen to their verbal cues 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 well’ will fall on deaf ears to someone who doesn’t believe it. Or thinks it’s what you say to everyone. So be as specific as possible with examples when giving praise. But, above all, mean it and say why.
Please take note of people’s best skills and ask them to share them with colleagues (along with other best practices). Make it cultural to frequently share people’s skill sets and note who’s exceptional at what. Not who’s better than someone else – that’s unhelpful. Instead, what is critical is sharing those positive attributes that will help a group, team, project, or business. If people 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 slightest mistake creates or affirms their feelings of inadequacy. Help employees realise that failure or mistakes are a step to success. Of course, it’s OK to make some mistakes and experience sub-optimal outcomes from time to time. However, 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 ability to achieve the desired outcomes are motivated and more likely to work through initial setbacks.
It’s exciting that the confidence level of employees has a direct positive impact on the success of any business. On the other hand, whether caused by rumour or reality, negativity is a confidence killer. We can manage both. If an organisation has a culture of relative openness and valid lines of communication, then there’s a strong likelihood that people will never believe rumour without validation.
Validation is essential 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 we enhance it.
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 typical when starting a new job or assignment, an employee cannot be confident in their work if s/he has not received adequate instruction on 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 confidence.
Reward employees by implementing an employee recognition programme to recognise top performers publicly 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 someone’s performance with a simple thank you. But it has to be sincere, and it always has to be accompanied by specific reasons 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 boost employee confidence in the company’s objectives and 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. Acknowledged these without fear (we’re all less good at something within our remit), and, as indicated, celebrate our strengths. Not so long ago, the Disney Company found that the business spent too much time dwelling on employee downsides. The CEO found that of staff evaluations, 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. Instead, he instructed that time and energy be spent helping people determine what they were good at and aligning their responsibilities with those capabilities. As a result, 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 value. Managers reward outstanding employee behaviour as soon as it becomes apparent. Immediacy works wonders.
Doing one’s best and worrying less helps (easier said than done but worthy of trying). Focus on success, even small successes help. Being as positive as possible help. And, by the way, nobody is positive 24/7. Acknowledging and letting go of small mistakes helps, and relaxing, playing and reflecting all help.
Confidence is infectious. People thrive in secure environments, provided each person feels part of that environment. Exclude nobody. And, of course, I stress that the environment must never create that poisonous barrel worthy of the title ‘arrogance’.
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