Regardless of whether you’re the intern, the CEO or somewhere in between, your career confidence can often take a hit when you need it the most.
Maybe you’re facing a tricky meeting, or anxious about your relationship with your boss, or just straight up overwhelmed. Whatever the situation, dealing with your demons at work can be draining. Work is called work for a reason. It’s hard. It’s even tougher if you feel everyone else is succeeding while you’re wracked with self-doubt.
The good news is, paying attention to your words, your body language and your thought patterns can make a difference. Here are some ways you can tackle your insecurities in the workplace.
1. Watch your words – what you say matters
Words are powerful. How you communicate can make or break how you appear to others, but it can also impact your state of mind. In his book, The Achievement Habit, Stanford professor Bernard Roth outlines how word swapping, a technique that replaces inherently negative words with positive ones, ultimately transforms our mindset.
If you subconsciously rely on negative language you will start to hold yourself back. Instead, flip the script as an experiment. Pay close attention to the words you choose and start making adjustments to deliver a positive impact.
Instead of “but” use “and”
Compare these two statements: “I want to attend the event, but I have to finish my report” versus “I want to attend the event and I have to finish my report.”
When you use the word but, you create a conflict for yourself that does not really exist. In contrast, when you use the word and, your brain gets to consider how it can deal with both parts of the sentence. The word swap helps you see that it’s possible to do both activities and projects confidence.
Instead of “have to” use “want to”
When you replace “have to” with “want to” effect is immediate. Consider the statement “I have to get into work early tomorrow to prep for the client meeting” versus “I want to get into work early to prep for the client meeting.”
By simply changing one word you transform a negative statement into a positive one, simultaneously conveying authority, competence and enthusiasm.
Stop apologizing, qualifying and questioning your statements
If you find yourself apologizing unnecessarily, stop. Play close attention to the language you use, and if you rely heavily on self-diminishing qualifiers, such as “just,” “actually,” or “but” it’s time to restructure your sentences.
Compare “I’m sorry, Jen, I just wanted to follow up on our conversation” to the alternate “Hello, Jen, I wanted to follow up on our conversation.”
Make it standard practice to use statements versus rhetorical questions. For example, “I suggest we set up the display the day before the event,” is more impactful and decisive than “what if we set up the display the day before the event?”
If you want to super-charge your career, start adjusting your language to communicate with authority and assuredness.
2. Pay attention to your body language
As a career coach, I always remind my clients how actions speak louder than words. Your body language is your secret weapon, it singlehandedly can help you project confidence when you need it the most.
When you practice powerful, positive body language you simultaneously give yourself a boost, by sending subliminal messages to your brain that reinforce positive, confident feelings. In her viral TED Talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy details how body language affects how others see us, and how it also impacts how we see ourselves. Her advice in a nutshell? Fake it till you make it.
Good posture indicates good composure. Sitting up straight conveys attentiveness, while slouching in your seat or during a meeting silently screams that you don’t want to be there. Smiling and making appropriate eye contact doesn’t just build rapport, it will make you appear trustworthy and confident.
Adjusting your stance and your expressions will make you feel more confident and that will manifest in how you appear.
In her book, The Silent Language of Leaders, Carol Kinsey Goman reiterates the importance of your verbal and silent communication. The author explains when your words and your body language are out of sync, you will send conflicting messages. In addition, if your words and body language are out of alignment, people tend to believe what they see and not what they hear.
To convey confidence, you need to harness your words and your actions. If you focus on your verbal exchanges alone and ignore the nonverbal element, you immediately diminish your impact. Don’t let your use of personal space, physical gestures, posture, facial expressions and eye contact sabotage your message. Nonverbal signals can make or break your success.
One great way to start making positive adjustments is to study the body language of the people around you. Start by observing the cues your coworkers, managers and senior leaders share as they move around your workplace, talk to each other, participate in meetings and deliver presentations. When you start paying attention, you will start to see the body language you should mirror and what to avoid.
You can also use quick tests, such as this one in The Guardian, to assess your body language fluency. Becoming adept at reading the gestures of others will help you determine how to successfully convey confidence.
3. Tackle self-sabotaging thoughts
Have you ever wondered, how did I get here? Do you secretly fear other people may find out you’re not as capable as they think you are? Are you sometimes afraid that you may fail at a new assignment regardless of previous strong performance? Or perhaps you compare your ability to others and suspect they may be more intelligent than you are?
If so, it could be mean you’re experiencing impostor syndrome. In the 1970s, psychologists Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Rose Clance coined the term after identifying a phenomenon occurring among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. Those affected often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70 percent of people have suffered from impostor syndrome at some point in their careers. A recent study also found over half of senior business leaders have not asked for a pay rise or pursued a promotion they knew they deserved, because of it. If you want to investigate if impostor syndrome is impacting your career, here’s a test created by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance that you take.
If you’re suffering from a crisis of career confidence, identifying approaches to reframe your thought patterns will go a long way. Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that you can’t control the uncontrollable, which are other people’s actions. Many things at work are out of our hands, particularly the behavior of other people. Instead of allowing that to accelerate your stress levels, try to focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems or challenges.
Next, while it may sound counter-productive, I’m going to say it anyway. You need to release the pressure valve and alleviate the pursuit of perfection. This doesn’t mean you should stop striving to do your best. Instead, you need to focus your mind on setting yourself up for success.
A great way to do this when your feeling insecure is to remember what you do well and what you’ve achieved in the past. It can be easy to forget all the good stuff when you’re feeling the heat. Recognize and fully embrace your expertise and accomplishments. If you find it hard to reflect in real time, write it all down. Compile a brag book, create a list on your phone, start journaling. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself you know your stuff.
Often, workplace anxiety is produced by inaccurate or distorted perceptions. A few examples include all-or-nothing thinking, such as “that was an unbelievable result” or “this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.” Rigid thinking blocks opportunity and can hold you back.
Emotional reasoning is another prime example of a distorted thinking pattern. This is when your emotions can lead you to believe that what you feel is what is real. For example, “I feel like a failure, so I must be a disappointment to my boss.” Before you let your subjective emotions takeover, try and separate your feelings from more objective facts about the situation at hand. Negative thoughts can snowball and once you’re in a downward spiral you can blow facts out of proportion. When you feel yourself starting to plummet, take a mental step back and stop yourself in your tracks.
If you start incorporating positive phrases, fine-tuning your body language signals and rechanneling your thought patterns, big shifts can, and will, happen. Focus on enhancing your words, actions and mentality and you will begin to super-charge your career.
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