I am going to start a role in a new team soon. I’m hoping you can give me some advice on how to seem confident and establish credibility.
I am on the younger side and I am not a very confident person to begin with. In my previous roles, I noticed that some people started talking down to me—for example, explaining things I already know or even taking credit for my work. I once told someone some ideas I had and during the next meeting, before it was my turn to talk, he shared all of my ideas as if they were his.
Do you have any suggestions on what I could do to avoid these situations? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Starting a New Role
Dear Starting a New Role,
Congratulations on your new role. Your question shows that you are a planner and that you are thoughtful—two strengths you have going for you. Your description of your previous experiences reveals that you are observant, which is another strength. The fact that you were once undermined by a co-worker who had no compunction about stealing your ideas and sharing them as his own is painful—but excellent—experience. I hope it taught you not to trust anyone until you have evidence that they are trustworthy.
A lot of appearing confident when you aren’t is physical. This means standing up straight, smiling and making eye contact with everyone you engage with, and maintaining stillness. Women, especially, tend to play with their hair, touch their face, or fidget with their accessories—a bag, jewelry, a phone. So don’t do any of those things. To keep yourself from movements that may signal discomfort, keep your hands loosely together in your lap or on a table and breathe.
If you feel yourself getting overly stressed, try two-to-one breathing: simply breathe in for three counts, hold for one count, and release the breath for six counts. Repeat. Or you can do two and four counts—whatever works for you. The research shows that this kind of breathing enables your parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down in a way that deep breathing doesn’t. And no one has to know you are doing it. Another benefit is that the counting occupies your mind and makes you appear alert and interested.
I would refer you to the work of Amy Cuddy, who wrote an entire book on Presence—and how the way you hold your body can actually change your brain, how you feel, and how others perceive you. Her research has been challenged—but I will tell you that I have experimented personally with her methods and they help.
I learned another technique from the autobiography of Laurence Olivier (the most famous actor of his day), where he describes how he suffered from almost paralyzing stage fright at the height of his success. The method he found that helped him overcome it was to feel the soles of his feet on the ground. I know that sounds weird, but I have had plenty of stage fright myself and it has worked. It literally gets you out of your head and back into your body.
The physical stuff is your first line of defense. The next step is to manage what goes on in your head. This is where your strengths will really help you. Use your powers of observation. Instead of second-guessing yourself, pay attention to others. Ask yourself what is important to each of the people you are interacting with. How do they think? What are their strengths? The more you pay attention to others, the less attention you will pay to whatever doubts you may have about yourself. The more information you gather about everyone you work with, the more you will be able to tailor your communication when you interact with them.
Credibility will come with delivering the results that are required of you. So do everything you can to first get crystal clear on what your boss and teammates are expecting from you—and then deliver. Make sure to follow through on any commitment you make, and only make promises you know you can keep. Ideas are all fine and well, but execution trumps pretty much everything.
Don’t worry about what to say. It is better to keep your mouth shut until you have something to say that you are 100% sure of. And when you are ready to say something, state your position and how you came to it. Straightforward, simple, and to the point. If you must speak in meetings, again, keep it simple and to the point. And of course, you already know how to not share your ideas with anyone until you know you can trust that they won’t take credit for them.
I would question your assertion that people telling you things you already know is the same as them talking down to you. It’s possible these people are just trying to be helpful. I guess my point here is that you don’t need to make assumptions about people’s intentions. If people are telling you things you already know, all you have to do is smile and say “thank you.” If people are offering help you don’t need, all you have to do is say “thanks, I’m all set.” It doesn’t hurt to cultivate relationships with people who want to help you. We all need all the help we can get! Nobody reaches their goals or achieves their dreams by themselves.
Pay attention, take notes, deliver on expectations. Stand up straight, keep your hands still, and breathe. Trust no one until you know they can be trusted.
You are going to be great.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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