Career

Trick Yourself Into Being More Confident At Work

Want to go beyond blazers and power poses? We’ve done the research and found out why you might not be feeling unbeatable – and what you can do about it.

Confidence Is A Lie

If you are feeling a lack of confidence at work it might be because you are actually quite good at your job already. No, really.

Here’s a head-scratcher for you: there’s a theory that incompetent people are too incompetent to realise they’re incompetent. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect and was coined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who concluded that “poor performers are doubly cursed: Their lack of skill deprives them not only of the ability to produce correct responses, but also of the expertise necessary to surmise that they are not producing them.” This also works in reverse – people who know that they still have heaps to learn tend to underestimate their skill because they are comparing their own skill level to the highest level.

Think of it this way: if you were running an obstacle course it would be natural for you to be nervous about the obstacles coming up. Someone who is completely clueless about what kind of obstacles are ahead (or doesn’t even know they’re in an obstacle course) might be more confident but they are probably not going to perform as well.

It could be useful to accept your lack of confidence as a side-product of weird stuff your brain does. Running an obstacle course is better if you know where the obstacles are.

Imposter Syndrome

Recognise that your problem may be perception rather than reflection of reality. Maybe you know that you should be feeling confident because you have already achieved some success and gotten some positive feedback, but don’t feel like you deserve it? This is called imposter syndrome, and while reported rates of imposter syndrome in women are higher than in men there is some evidence that this may be due to higher rates of reporting in women rather than higher rates of occurrence.

Imposter syndrome can strike people of any background with any degree of success. Jodie Foster once said she was afraid she’d have to give back the Oscar she won for The Accused. (Nobody tell her what happened to La La Land…)

Imposter syndrome can often lead people to believe that their success is down to luck or other factors outside of their control, rather than their own performance. It is worthwhile to acknowledge the factors of being in the right place at the right time and the contributions of others which enabled your success, but don’t go overboard. Next time you think that you might not be good enough, stop and remind yourself that it could just be imposter syndrome.

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Compare Downwards, Too

Sometimes a lack of confidence at work can come from comparing yourself to others. If you must compare your career to other people’s careers (not recommended) it helps to keep the entire spectrum of career signposts in mind. Did you not get the promotion you wanted? What about the person who wants to be promoted to the position you have now? Everything is relative, and a short term fix may be making a passive downwards comparison. The emphasis here is on passive: the aim is to just observe that they are already downward, not you know, sabotaging their project or trying to get them fired or something.

Even if you are not comparing yourself to others you may be comparing yourself to an impossible standard in your mind. Instead of dwelling on all the things you haven’t done, think of all the things you have done. Keep a list of what you have already achieved, even if that means writing a daily to-do list and sneaking a couple of already-done things on there so you can have the satisfaction of ticking them off.

Growth Mindset

If your confidence at work has been shaken by a mistake you made, or even just not performing as well as you would have liked to, try to think of it as part of a learning curve.

Framing your work stumbles as a learning experience will help you feel more confident because it takes the pressure off you to have everything “perfect” right away. It also helps you reframe it in your mind as reflective of where you happen to be at right now rather than reflecting the core of who you are as a person.

Try adopting a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, has written extensively about the way children perceive themselves and how it affects their learning. Children with a fixed mindset view their ability to learn and do things as a result of the way they are, for example, “I can’t do maths.” Children with a growth mindset view the situation as more changeable, and therefore learn more, because they see it more as “I can’t do this maths yet, but I can learn how.”

So, want a managerial position but don’t have the confidence to apply? If you think it’s because you’re not management material try adopting a growth mindset and look for ways to learn managerial skills.

Level Up

The only way to guarantee you feel confident at work all the time would be by doing the same thing over and over – your confidence would never be challenged because you would never be challenged. It’s natural to feel a bit unsure of yourself when facing challenges, and it’s good to face challenges, otherwise you stagnate.

If your job were a video game, it would be like playing the same level again and again on the easiest difficulty setting instead of progressing to the next level.

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In fact, John Hagel at Deloitte says, “The younger people coming into the teams who have had experience playing online games are the highest-level performers because they are constantly motivated to seek out the next challenge and grab on to performance metrics.”

It’s the wobbling at yoga that makes you better at balancing. Lifting heavier weights make you stronger. Turn the difficulty setting up on your career. Remind yourself of how much you have already achieved, look at everything as a learning opportunity and don’t be fooled by the little voice in your head that says you can’t do it ­­– you just can’t do it yet.


Yvonne Buresch is a Perth-based freelance writer whose favourite hobbies include going out for breakfast and lying perfectly still after having eaten too much breakfast. You can find her on Twitter @cakey_face