Christine is the head of the International Monetary Fund. She's tall. She's smart. She dresses in elegant Chanel suits.
Christine looks like someone with a lot of confidence, but that's not really the case.
She's still worried about being caught off-guard. This is a direct quote from Christine:
“There are moments where I have to sort of go deep inside myself and call my strength, confidence, background history, experience, and all the rest of it to assert a particular point.”
Like many women in business, Christine compensates by over-preparing. She's not the only one.
Angela is a legal official in Germany. She shares many of the same concerns as Christine when she works on a particular matter. She works the file inside and out to get prepared. She wants to ensure that she understands all there is to know about the topic and won't be surprised by someone.
Here are two powerful female leaders that share feelings of inadequacy, but you wouldn't know from the outside.
The two stories I just shared with you are from a book I encourage you to read: Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business.
I'm going to dive into the psychology of self-confidence and look at the differences between men and women. I'll also give you some advice for building confidence in the workplace that you can start using today.
Many research studies have focused on self-confidence and the nuances that women and men experience. We have to be careful when talking about differences in confidence between men and women because we don't want to create stereotypes. There are research studies that help explain the differences, but it doesn't mean that they are one-size-fits-all situations.
There is a belief within the business world that women lack confidence. What we sometimes hear is that women might speak up less than in meetings and not put themselves forward for promotions unless they're 100% certain that they meet all the job requirements. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that women are less confident.
There was a research analysis done of 200 studies. The only noticeable differences between men and women when it came to self-confidence were found during adolescence and then starting at age 23. The differences are very small.
Self-confidence is a significant psychological trait characterized by our belief in our abilities, judgment, and qualities. It's about valuing yourself and feeling worthy no matter what imperfections you perceive in yourself or what others think of you.
Self-confidence can change depending on the situation, which may explain why we see problems with self-confidence in the workplace in women versus men that don't appear in studies.
Let's get into some of the psychology behind what's happening in terms of self-confidence.
Hewlett Packard surveyed employees who applied for internal positions. Their findings were very intriguing. Women only applied if they met 100% of the qualifications, but men would apply with only 60% of the qualifications.
What does this tell us? Women might wait to apply for a role until they feel like they're a perfect match. It takes time and work to get there.
Without generalizing, we do know from research that men tend to take more risks, especially when it comes to moving up in their careers. They figure that they're smart and they'll learn on the job.
After the presentation of the Hewlett Packard research, two CEOs approached the researcher. They both asked independently: "Don't you mean 110% of the qualifications when you talk about women?"
This perfectionism comes from feeling like an imposter. You might have heard of Imposter Syndrome, which means you feel you aren't quite qualified to be in a position or talking about something.
Sometimes it means you don't feel worthy enough. I know I've felt like that. It's a huge obstacle for women who want to move up within their organizations, within their careers, or even those who want to start businesses.
I like what psychology professor Richard Petty at The Ohio State University had to say about self-confidence. He thinks that confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action. That is huge.
Compared to men, women don't consider themselves as ready for a new job or promotion. It doesn't matter what level they are at within their career or business. Women even predict that they'll do worse on tests and tend to underestimate their abilities. If you're wondering why this is, one of the beliefs is that it comes from factors ranging from our upbringing to biology. The psychology behind confidence in the workplace may also help you understand.
There are a couple of theories associated with self-confidence. One psychological theory was created by Albert Bandura. He suggests that our self-confidence is impacted by our previous experiences—the support and encouragement we receive from others and our perception of our skills and abilities.
Another theory is the Self-Concept Theory. It proposes that our self-confidence is based on our self-concept, which is our overall view of ourselves. This includes our attitudes, beliefs, values, and capabilities.
According to this theory, if we have a positive self-concept, we'll have a higher level of self-confidence.
There is also Social Cognitive Theory, which suggests that self-confidence is impacted by the way we perceive and interpret social situations. According to this theory, if we have a positive view of ourselves and believe that we're competent, we're more likely to have higher levels of self-confidence.
I believe this theory is very relevant in the workplace. It has to do with what you feel you're competent in.
Build Confidence at Work
Believing in yourself and your abilities affects your confidence at work. You can alter your belief in yourself and your self esteem through some tips to help you boost your confidence.
Write Down Your Strengths
One of the first things you can do to improve your self-confidence is identify and focus on your strengths, achievements, and abilities.
Be honest with yourself. Write down everything you're proud of; start small if you have to. Think about what this all means to you and why it's important to you.
The tip I'm about to mention is what I struggle with: being more assertive. Don't feel bad about asking other people for what you want or saying no to what you don't want.
I have a hard time saying no, so I'll take on more tasks and responsibilities that I didn't necessarily want. Practice being more assertive and saying "yes" or "no" when you want to.
Reward yourself when you accomplish something. For example, if you had a great meeting today and you killed it, create a reward for yourself. That could mean going out to dinner with friends, opening a bottle of wine, or whatever else excites you.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
Something else you can do to build confidence in the workplace is to get out of your comfort zone. Learn new skills in areas you want to improve.
Think about what skills and knowledge make sense for you in your position that you could improve.
Identify Your Weak Spots
The next tip is to identify those situations that make you feel a lack of confidence. Write them down and then determine what you can do to overcome them to start increasing your confidence.
Set Clear Goals
The last tip is a big one: setting clear goals.
Say you want to develop a new skill or increase your knowledge of a subject. Those are goals, so write them down. Choose things that will challenge you and help you grow.
Next, break down each goal into actual steps and write them out. Let's say you want to increase your knowledge about X subject. How are you going to do that? Are you going to take a course? Are you going to attend a webinar or a conference? Make your plan simple and actionable.
As you go through those steps, check them off. You'll start to feel more confident about your success after you complete each one.
There are some differences between men and women when it comes to being confident employees and leaders in the workplace. Confidence is important, but we've all been in those situations where we felt a little less confident than we would like. That's okay because we can take steps to build our workplace confidence each day.