Almost everybody feels like a fraud at some point in their career. Imagine you’ve taken a higher position or earned a promotion, but now you’re wondering if you’re worthy of the increased responsibility. You might start to think your coworkers perceive you as less competent, and every fumble or mistake you make just proves them right.
That feeling is called imposter syndrome, and it’s more common than you might think. An estimated 70% of people report experiencing imposter syndrome at different points in their lives. So if you’re feeling that way, it’s OK to relax. Stop beating yourself up. It’s completely normal, and you can take some simple steps to overcome it.
We've talked to dozens of psychologists, business coaches, consultants, and HR specialists and asked them to share their best recommendations on how to build confidence and be confident in the workplace. But first, let's explore what may be behind your self-doubt and discover why it's important to be confident at work.
Why You Might Lack Workplace Confidence
There are plenty of reasons to lack confidence other than imposter syndrome. The source could be a bad boss, a difficult teacher, or even an overly critical parent. We’re all a product of our environment and upbringing, but our future isn’t determined by it. One of the first steps to gaining confidence is acknowledging your value.
“Every human being, regardless of status, role, experience, and education, has a contribution to make,” said business strategist Ravi Kathuria, president of Cohegic and author of “Happy Soul, Hungry Mind.” “Often, we do not realize how much potential we have. This point becomes the foundation of confidence.”
And confidence starts within ourselves.
“We may have a fixed mindset and think to ourselves, ‘I can’t do this,’” said Darcy Luoma, of Darcy Luoma Coaching & Consulting and author of “Thoughtfully Fit.” “When we adopt a growth mindset, we can start building up our core confidence.”
The Benefits of Confidence in the Workplace
Losing confidence at work can take a toll on your self-esteem and create more anxiety.
Whether it’s imposter syndrome, a fear of failure, feeling overwhelmed, or a stressful environment, not feeling confident in your abilities can hurt your job performance and career advancement. You are less likely to work efficiently and excel at your job when you’re not feeling good about yourself. One study even showed that people who don’t feel confident at work earn less money than those with confidence.
Now, let’s talk about the benefits of workplace confidence.
“Being confident at work, whether you're an employee or CEO, is critical to your business success,” said Daniel Roberts, cofounder at Think Impact. “It improves communication, your relationships, and work environment, and (it) fosters more positive feedback from the rest of the team.”
Confidence helps you:
- Make decisions more quickly
- Be more in control in times of stress
- Influence others when selling an idea or negotiating
- Feel valued
- Reduce negative thoughts and self-doubt
Self-confident people feel more empowered to make decisions and act on them. These are qualities that help you stand out as a leader and earn the promotions you deserve.
10 Common Things You Might Say That Show a Lack of Confidence
Maybe you feel pretty good about your work, but your boss or colleague said you don’t have “leadership qualities,” or you keep getting passed over for a promotion. What are you doing wrong? Well, first of all, it might not be you. It might be them. But also really take a look at how you talk and act. Too often, we apologize or wrap our thoughts with qualifiers before making a statement. These subtle speech nuances can make a big impact.
Here’s some advice on what not to say—and what to say instead—from more than a dozen psychologists, business coaches, and consultants. Watch out for words like “sorry,” “can’t,” “won’t,” or “hopefully.” They make you appear tentative or unwilling. Instead, focus on positive phrases that reposition your statements. Here are a few examples:
10 Common Phrases That Show a Lack of Confidence & 10 Things to Say Instead
|Instead of Saying...||Say This...|
|"I'm sorry to bother you."||"Thanks for your time."|
|"I won't be able to do this."||"Here's what I need to get this done."|
|"Hopefully, this will work."||"Let's do it."|
|"I'm confused."||"Can you clarify what you mean by..."|
|"I think that's a good idea."||"That's a good idea."|
|"I'll try to..."||"I will..."|
|"This usually doesn't work."||"Let's give it a shot."|
|"I suspect that something is wrong."||"Something is wrong."|
|"That's impossible..."||"Let's try it."|
|"I'm concerned about this project."||"How should we handle this?"|
Lose the qualifiers. Instead, make definitive statements, and don’t apologize if you’re not sorry.
“In my early 20s, I worked at a high-pressure international non-profit organization where I constantly felt inadequate and ineffective,” said psychotherapist Catherine Hall, LMSW at Psychology Degree Guide. “The best piece of wisdom I’ve ever received came from an older colleague at that organization, who was fed up with the expectation that she should take responsibility for things she didn’t do wrong. After a particularly fraught argument with a superior, she turned to me and said, ‘I don’t apologize for things I’m not sorry for.’”
Everyone makes mistakes, said Hall.
“But everyone is also faced with circumstances beyond their control that can impact their work product,” she said.
Finally, when you do get a compliment, accept it! Don’t say “It was nothing really,” said communications coach Rosanne Galvan.
“Instead, say ‘Thanks for noticing! I am happy with the way the project came together and proud of the results,” she said.
5 Ways to Boost Your Confidence at Work
Automaker Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”
He was right about that.
When you’re trying to boost your confidence at work, take practice steps to keep the negative thoughts away. Our panel of coaches and business consultants shared these five tips to help build more confidence.
1. Know yourself.
“Knowing yourself means you know your strengths and vulnerabilities,” said certified executive coach Evan Tzivanakis. “That also means you know exactly which parts of your life you are self-confident and which areas you need to develop.”
Then use this knowledge to prepare, he said. Preparation gives you the inner confidence that comes from knowing you put in the work to be ready. Basically, develop the areas where you doubt yourself. Stop dwelling on them and turn them into strengths.
2. Start small.
Building confidence can be intimidating. If you’re not quite ready, start with the basics.
“I recommend starting with small tasks, like speaking up and offering a new idea during a meeting,” said Justin Aquino, founder and head coach at Cool Communicator. “From there, you can progress to a more challenging task that builds confidence.”
These small tasks display confidence and let you build up to bigger tasks, like respectfully disagreeing with a colleague or proposing a project to your boss. Think of them as practice runs to build your confidence.
3. Always be in growth mode.
“Just like riding a bike may cause some bumps and falls, new learnings in the workplace will do the same,” said business coach and consultant Lynette Phillips. “Try the stretch assignment, learn a new skill to enhance your current capabilities, and get to know others and how they do things.”
Learning new skills helps give you the confidence that you can take on new tasks and succeed. Take advantage of training and education to always be learning.
4. Don’t wait for opportunities.
Human resource specialist Sherry Knight, president and CEO of talent management firm Dimension 11, suggested volunteering for projects and asking for feedback on projects you’re working on. Knight also recommended lending your experience to other colleagues to help them with their projects. This shows them what you know at the same time as it helps build your confidence.
Consider becoming a mentor to others at work. When you’re helping others learn and grow, your confidence will grow, as well.
5. Focus on successes, not failures.
“To establish true self-confidence, we must concentrate on our successes and forget about the failures and the negatives in our lives,” said consultant Denis Waitley, author of “The Psychology of Winning.”
7 Ways to Be a Confident Leader
Heard of “fake it until you make it”? Confidence doesn’t happen overnight. So here’s how you can act like a workplace rockstar.
Leah Thomas at FairyGodBoss offered this advice.
- Make eye contact and show you’re listening.
- Push your comfort zone.
- Identify your strengths and accentuate them.
- Identify your weakness, and plan for improvement.
- Practice positive affirmations.
- Ask for feedback and apply it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
She also suggested you always appear positive. Be approachable, friendly, and appear in control—even if you’re not feeling that way at the moment.
“No matter how great your ideas are, no matter how beautiful your slides are, or how well-groomed you are, if your energy is low and you seem unenthused when you communicate (formally or informally), your audience will take a cue and become unenthused about paying attention to you,” said leader development strategist Haley Azulay, founder and CEO of TalentGrow LLC. “Enthusiasm is the ‘secret sauce’ that separates the most successful people in any profession from all the rest.”
While enthusiasm is an outward sign of confidence, you also need to manage your approach. Azulay said you should exhibit “confident benevolence” in the workplace.
“Benevolence means having others’ best interests in mind, approaching others with an assumption that they mean well, and expecting the best of others,” Azulay said. “Confident benevolence means showing your confidence without it trumping your humility and other-focus. It means respecting your own worth while respecting others.”
Avoid Being a Victim of Self-Doubt
Everyone falls victim to self-doubt at times. Some doubt may even be a good thing, as it makes us more reflective and keeps us grounded. It’s important to be curious. Could you have done something better? That’s why it’s important to ask for feedback. Get the question out of your mind, and get a real answer! Immersing yourself in constant doubt is self-destructive.
Always remember: they hired you for a reason.
The 8 Best Books to Help Fight Imposter Syndrome or Low Self-Esteem
There are hundreds of books to help bolster your self-esteem. The folks at Positive Psychology offered these suggestions:
- “The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success” by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance
- “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” by Dr. Valerie Young
- “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
- “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” by Amy Cuddy
- “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by Dr. David D. Burns
- “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Dr. Brené Brown
- “The Practice: Shipping Creative Work” by Seth Godin
- “The Imposter Cure: Escape the Mind-Trap of Imposter Syndrome” by Dr. Jessamy Hibberd