Deborah, an executive in the consumer goods industry, was asked by her boss to conduct an internal assessment of one of the company’s programs. She uncovered some potentially serious issues and was careful to address each one in the report she prepared. A few days after she submitted it, he called her into his office. He had redlined page after page.
To Deborah’s surprise, he wasn’t interested in discussing her findings. “Look at the language you use,” he said. “You’re qualifying all of your observations. You don’t sound sure of yourself. You need to re-write it.”
As Deborah flipped through the report, she found instance after instance where she had diluted the impact of her observations. She realized that her boss was right: she didn’t sound sure of herself. She sounded like she was afraid of stepping on toes.
As Deborah conveyed the story to me, she had already learned an invaluable lesson: She realized that if she didn’t convey herself confidently, her message risked being lost. Her question to me was, how could she present herself more confidently in the future?
There are plenty of ways we unintentionally undermine ourselves, whether it’s in our written words, our conversations, presentations, or the way we carry ourselves. We think that we’re putting on a good front and that others don’t see our insecurities, but often they do. As this article discusses, women are more likely than men to be viewed as exhibiting low confidence, and they more commonly feel less confident, regardless of merit.
There is no quick fix. For those who struggle to feel more confident, it doesn’t happen overnight. But one step in the right direction is to pay closer attention to how you present your opinions and ideas to others. Does your language—written or verbal—command attention? Or do you instead soften your delivery so as not to seem too assertive? If you do, chances are you’re severely minimizing the impact of your message. If you don’t sound convinced about what you’re saying, it’s hard to convince others.
1. Watch your words. For one week, pay attention to how you convey your opinions and ideas to others. Do you convey a confident presence? Do you sound like you believe strongly in what you are saying? Are you softening your views in order to be perceived as moderate, and not to offend others?
2. Stop qualifying. Next time you want to start a sentence with “I think that” or “I believe that…,” drop off the introductory phrase. Contrast the impact of “I think it would be beneficial to revise the marketing strategy” with “It would be beneficial to revise the marketing strategy,” or better yet “I am confident that the marketing strategy must be revised.”
3. Observe others. At the same time, identify a colleague or two whom you perceive as being confident. How do they communicate? How do you know by their speech that they are confident? What additional small steps can you take to deliver your ideas with more assurance and conviction?
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DONNA RAE SMITH is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at
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