With so many challenges in the workplace, we certainly don’t need any help creating more trials for ourselves. But often, that’s exactly the problem: Through our behaviors, we often add to our own burdens, instead of making our work lives less stressful.
Here’s a great example: In a presentation I recently attended, a woman in the audience said that when she has a question for a speaker, she usually prefaces it with something like, “Are you taking stupid questions?” While that type of comment may make her feel better about asking what she thinks is a dumb question, it actually undermines her intelligence and professionalism to her colleagues and peers—probably not the intended result.
Think about ways in which you’ve done this, too: Have you ever been given an assignment and sheepishly responsded with, “Sure I’ll do that, but I’ll probably screw it up?” Or when it’s suggested you take a course at a prestigious institution, you say, “Oh, I never do well in school.” This kind of verbal self-sabotage can seriously hurt your confidence and negatively impact the way others perceive you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to improve your confidence, perceived competence, and the belief others have in you, start by pinpointing and fixing these two common credibility-killing behaviors.
Killer #1: Using Negative Self-Talk
Your meeting with the boss’ boss takes an unexpected turn. A co-worker pops in to ask for an analysis that you totally forgot about. Your customer is ticked off about a shipment that arrived late because you forgot to overnight it.
Do any of the following responses sound familiar?
I’m such an idiot.
I can’t believe I forgot that!
I knew I didn’t belong in this job.
Sometimes you mutter these things only to yourself. More often, to let people know how sorry you are for the incident, you say them aloud—as if publicly berating yourself demonstrates the sincerity of your remorse for a task gone wrong.
When you dip into negative self-talk, however, you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re admitting that there’s no solution and accepting defeat. Even worse, you’re telling those around you the same. Think about a time when you’ve heard someone say harsh and negative things about himself. Do you have confidence in his work? Can you depend on him? Is he someone you want to see promoted or rewarded? I suspect not.
How to Course-Correct
When you make a mistake—as everyone inevitably does—suspend the need to judge or criticize yourself. Instead, acknowledge the situation to yourself (and others, if necessary), and identify a corrective path.
I didn’t handle that meeting very well. I’d like to get some feedback and ideas on what I can do better next time.
Jason, I completely missed the analysis deadline. I’ll get started immediately and have it to you by 5 PM.
Mr. Shockey, it was my responsibility to get you the shipment on time. It didn’t happen this time, but here’s what I’ll do to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid dealing with mistakes or shortcomings. But instead of berating yourself, focus on taking ownership of the situation, designing a solution to correct the issue, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. You’ll show others that you’re going to own your work—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when it is ugly, you won’t whine, look for a scapegoat, or play the blame game.
Killer #2: Compulsively Apologizing
You’re in a meeting. Someone asks you to pass the binder, but you fumble it, and it falls on the table. “Oh, sorry!”
You’re sending the final draft of a report to your boss, 15 minutes later than you said you would. You begin the email with, “Sorry I’m sending this so late.”
Sure, there are certainly times in life—and your career—when apologies are warranted, necessary, and meaningful. But there are also the compulsive apologies that we say for insignificant mishaps, when no apology is truly necessary.
You may think apologies are a good way to build relationship and express concern for another’s well-being, but they can actually undermine your professional demeanor. In her book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, Lois Frankel posits, “Apologizing for unintentional, low-profile, non-egregious errors erodes our self-confidence, and in turn, the confidence others have in us.”
(And yes, research shows this is more an issue for women than men. Men are just as likely as women to apologize for something they did wrong, but they have a different idea of what defines “wrong.” Women are apt to apologize for more trivial matters.)
How to Course-Correct
The best way to change a behavior is to notice how often you do it. I encourage my clients to spend about two weeks actively noting how often they apologize. Once you become aware of how frequently (and often, how unintentionally) you’re doing it, you can start changing your behavior.
For example, stop beginning emails with, “Sorry for….” As soon as you type the word “sorry,” backspace right over it and continue with your sentence.
If your boss disagrees with the way you handled a customer problem, don’t apologize for doing it wrong. Rather, explain the logic you used to get to the solution, so that she can understand your thinking—then ask for feedback: “Based on the customer feedback, I thought we took the right action on this. Tell me more about what your expectation was so that we can be more aligned next time.”
If you’re delivering something late, indicate, “I appreciate your patience,” and if you bump into someone, simply say, “Excuse me.”
Don’t get me wrong: If there’s something that earnestly deserves an apology, apologize. Do it quickly and only once, then move on to developing a solution.
When you take responsibility for your language, your self-talk, and the way you interact with others, you’ll feel more confident. And, as a result, others will have more confidence in you, too.