One of the blockers that I often see is a lack of self-confidence. I’m not talking about the kind of superficial confidence that people portray to the outside world. I’m talking about a profound belief in one’s own abilities, which many people unfortunately don’t have.
The worst thing you can do is to criticise and be overly challenging
If you work with someone who lacks self-confidence, the worst thing you can do is to criticise, minimise and be overly challenging. The employee will perceive your behaviour as a personal attack, which will trigger a fight/flight or freeze response in them. They will go into survival mode and will lose their ability to think clearly. Some managers may take advantage of the situation and elevate themselves at the expense of the employee. That's very unfortunate. People who lack confidence are easy targets and pushy managers don't realise how much damage they are doing.
To get the best out of the situation, and the employee, respond in the following ways:
- Give them support. Let people know that you have their back. It will give them the space and confidence to contribute without fear of being judged. You can do that by taking the time to understand their situation and by showing empathy. When you offer guidance and allow them to make mistakes you remove a large part of the pressure they put on themselves.
- Give sincere praise. Insecure people need to be reminded of their strengths and the things they do well. They doubt their own abilities and don’t feel that they are good at anything. You can help them perform better by pointing out aspects of an assignment that they have completed really well and by explaining why you believe they are the right person to complete the task at hand.
- Build them up step by step. People who don’t have a lot of confidence tend to remember the times in their work and life when they failed at something. Their negative expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies where they go on to fail because they expected it. Through small assignments, which they have the skills to complete well, you can begin to reverse the flow. You gradually build them up and give them the experience of what it feels like to succeed.
- Set clear expectations. When you delegate a task be as clear as possible about what you expect the outcome to look like. Don’t be overly controlling by demanding that it’s done in a certain way. Instead give them time to think about it and check back in with them. Talk through the steps they expect to take and ask what support they need from you. This will help mitigate the risk of something going wrong, which would further undermine their confidence.
- Offer training. If the team member is new in a role they may feel particularly insecure because they don’t feel they have the right skills. Giving them the right kind of training will help them progress as there is a strong link between competence and confidence. After the training, ask them to convey what they learnt and help them make use of the new knowledge. Integrating the learning on the job straight away is essential as they will otherwise see it as another point of failure.
Whereas the above tips will help a team member feel more confident about their abilities and increase their performance, it’s unlikely that it will get to the root of their self-esteem issues. The employee will have to take matters in their own hands and decide to work on the underlying problem. This can take a little while, as they will have to revisit their thought patterns and understand where the negative self-talk comes from.
If you are the person who lacks self-esteem, try these tips:
- List your talents and successes. Take some time out to review your successes and all the things you are good at. At first you may feel that you are not good at much, but think again. What do you have a natural talent for? What were you good at as a child? What do other people compliment you for? What are you proud of in your life? Write as much down as you can think of. Find at least ten items! Perhaps you are a really good listener. Perhaps you are patient. Perhaps you are creative or analytical. Once you have written them down, take each quality and really feel it. Yes, instead of thinking about it, feel it. Take this talent into your heart and recognise that it has been give to you as a gift.
- Tone down the inner critic. Notice the negative chatter in your mind and start to challenge it. The thoughts you have are just thoughts. And they aren’t true until you decide to believe them. So stop listening to them. If you hear a thought saying I’m not as successful as others, I’m not as fast a thinker as others or I'm not as creative as my peers, challenge it. What would happen if you ignored that thought? What would happen if you replaced it with another thought such as, I’m learning and I’m getting better every day? If your mind chatter continues, engage in a daily mindfulness meditation. This practice will teach you to observe your thoughts and to let go of them without judgement.
- Be your own cheerleader and best friend. Experiment being the fly on the wall and observe yourself and your behaviours from the outside. Could it be that you are treating yourself worse than you would a friend? How come? What would you say if you were talking to your best friend and in which ways you would build them up? What would it take for you to treat yourself in the same way? How could you show yourself more compassion and self-love? In situations where you are overly critical of yourself, say these words: This is a moment of difficulty. Difficulties are part of everybody’s life. A lot of people probably feel the same way. I will respond with kindness. I will treat myself with compassion.
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