Your stomach drops and your eyes roll. You glance at your to-do list and bristle in your seat.
The approach of the insecure co-worker is enough to make the most nurturing of us a little touchy after hearing the same hesitant phrases—“What should I do?” or “Is this OK?” or “I don’t know what I’m doing”—over and over again.
Instead of looking at your calendar for an excuse to hurry away, try offering up one of these five phrases—which just might break the cycle and help your colleagues build a little confidence.
1. “I Have Your Back”
In part, insecurity comes from not knowing what’s going to happen and, because of that, second-guessing your behavior.
So whether an insecure colleague works above you, below you, or by your side, letting him know you have his back—no matter what happens—is the ultimate reassurance.
It conveys that you believe in his ability to do the task, but if he needs your help, you’ll be there. It’s the kind of reassurance that makes the possibilities of what could happen just a little safer, which in turn makes your co-worker a little less likely to ask, “Erm, what should I do next?”
2. “Your Best Is Plenty”
The drive for perfection goes hand-in-hand with insecurity. Employees wants to deliver something that ticks all the boxes (often without knowing what those boxes are), and managers want to run a seamless department or team that nails the organization’s objectives (often without knowing what the objectives are).
So, people run round in circles trying to do things “perfectly” in an attempt to meet incomplete or unrealistic expectations.
But when you let someone know that her best is plenty, you cut through the crap and let her know that you don’t need perfect—just the most she has to offer.
3. “How Could This Be Easier?”
Ever seen someone over-complicate something because he or she is so completely focused on doing it perfectly?
It happens all the time: Insecure co-workers over-engineer solutions to a seemingly simple project, layer on unnecessary administrative work to processes, and obsess about needless details.
So simply asking him or her, “How could this be easier?” is a smart way to sidestep that struggle and allow him or her think about how to take some of the pressure off by looking for ways to simplify things.
4. “Trust the Process”
That big important project might fail spectacularly or completely change an organization’s course of business. A presentation might flop or get a standing ovation. A new team might click into place and build wonderful things or fight, bicker, and create nothing but hot air.
Truth is, no one knows what’s going to happen—but that doesn’t stop anyone from worrying about the outcomes.
People who are insecure tend to look for the choice or action that will lead to the optimal answer or outcome. Instead of starting with the end goal in mind, ask your co-worker to simply start at the start and take one step at a time.
You never get to 100% without going through 0% to 99% first, so rather than asking people to focus intently on reaching a specific outcome (which may never actually happen), ask them to trust the process instead.
5. “What Do You Need?”
Insecure colleagues can burn a lot of time and money spinning their wheels, wondering what to do and how to do it.
Help them break through that mental block and stop worrying by asking them what they need to move forward. Do they need more time? An extra pair of hands? An additional skillset? More room in the budget? A brainstorming session to work through a problem?
With this phrase, you can help them move from thought to action by pushing them to identify what would be most useful—rather than focus what they don’t have.
Insecurity can feel paralyzing and disabling. Helping an insecure co-worker focus on what they can do and what they are capable of will help them feel more confident—and that, ultimately, will lead to better results for the whole team.