How to Grow Your Confidence at Work

Colleagues share tips for boosting professional self-belief

Growing confidence on the job. Image courtesy of Big Stock.

According to a survey by Indeed, 94% of workers say they are happier when they feel confident at work, and 98% say they perform better when they feel confident.

“Feeling confident is about how you carry yourself,” said Dr. Beth-Anne Blue, assistant director of Duke Personal Assistance Service. “It’s about internal and external presentation and believing you’re there for a reason and someone knew you could do the job.”

Working@Duke talked with professionals at Personal Assistance Service, Duke Faculty Advancement and the Duke Career Center for strategies on overcoming self-doubt.

Ground Your Thoughts

Dr. Beth-Anne Blue

Dr. Beth-Anne Blue, a licensed psychologist and assistant director of the Duke Personal Assistance Service, meets with staff and faculty who struggle with self-confidence. And she’s felt her own sense of confidence wane too, over the years, for example, before a presentation.

When working with employees struggling with their confidence at work, she has a technique she uses, called “examining the evidence.” She’ll have her clients take a sheet of paper, and divide it down the middle.

On one side, she has her clients write down their worst-case fears such as getting a bad review, or even getting fired. On the other side of the paper, she helps clients come up with statements that support these, what Blue calls, “irrational” fears.

Typically, Blue helps her clients see that there really isn’t any evidence that supports the irrational fears, and she helps clients come up with realistic thoughts that should give her clients the confidence that they need for their job. For example, an employee can us statements like they were hired for a reason, they are qualified for the job as evidence to believe in themselves.

The practice grounds thoughts, helping to influence actions and behaviors for a confident employee. Blue said people shouldn’t feel all alone. The practice of sharing when you feel nervous with a friend or colleague can help. 

And when feelings of lack of confidence pervade, staff and faculty can turn to PAS, which offers up to eight free counseling sessions per concern.

“Lack of confidence can start out in lots of different ways,” Blue said. “But the whole key is that we have the ability to think for ourselves and have realistic thought processes to get through this.”

Lean on Areas of Strength

Maria LaMonaca Wisdom.

Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, director of Faculty Mentorship and Coaching Programs at Duke, considers self-confidence to be a feeling that can come and go.

Recently, she provided coaching to an early-career faculty member who sought help in boosting their confidence when answering questions. This concern arose after the faculty member delivered a presentation on their research and expertise in a specific area. However, it's worth noting that Wisdom pointed out that a lack of confidence is not limited to only those who are less experienced.

“I think we tend to assume that lack of confidence is more common among junior colleagues or when they’re young or brand new at something,” said Wisdom, who coaches and mentors faculty at all career stages. “One thing that’s struck me in the time I’ve been coaching is you see pretty quickly that almost no one is immune to the occasional crisis of confidence.”

Wisdom said that you can learn more about building up confidence in certain areas by leaning on moments or tasks when you feel strong self-confidence. Then, by imagining yourself applying that feeling to an area where you’re unsure, you can learn what’s causing a rift in confidence.

“I will often have people think about what would happen if they felt no fear? What would be possible?” Wisdom said. “Sometimes, people just need to be given permission to imagine themselves really confident.”  

And if they can’t draw from their own experiences, Wisdom encourages colleagues to think about others who would handle the situation with confidence. By thinking of that person, hesitant professionals can learn from and apply that behavior to their own lives.

“Think of the most confident person you know,” Wisdom said. “How would that person handle that? They can always, without any hesitation, tell me what the confident person would do.”

Step into the Growth Zone

Carl Thompson.

In the LinkedIn Learning course “Confidence: How to Overcome Self-Doubt, Insecurity and Fears,” communications coach TJ Guttormsen says learning to step into your “growth zone” is key to building confidence.

The "growth zone" is that space between feeling completely at ease and experiencing panic. In this zone, professionals can set small yet challenging goals to push themselves in areas where they lack confidence. For instance, if someone wants to improve their public speaking skills, they can take actionable steps in the growth zone, like speaking up a few times in each meeting. These exercises can help someone progress toward their ultimate goal of becoming a better public speaker, as suggested by Guttormsen.

When he started at Duke earlier this year, Carl Thompson knew that to grow confidence, he had to get outside of his comfort zone.

He started by reaching out to others across Duke who help advise students and set up meetings with them in person. That helped him to learn how to navigate parts of campus beside his corner of Duke and ask them questions to better understand how to approach his own role.

“There are some things you really have to research and learn yourself, but more than anything networking has been a big benefit to me,” he said.

As parts of Duke and his role grew more familiar, Thompson’s confidence grew, and he learned to stop comparing himself to others. Instead, he leaned on his experience more naturally and remembered why he was chosen for the position.

“Know who you are, know your position, know your value and be the best that you can be,” Thompson said. “Naturally, from there, your confidence is going to grow.”

Learn more about how to build confidence at work through this LinkedIn Learning course.

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