Not speaking up at work? Silence doesn’t build confidence. Here’s what will

Struggling to communicate at work with confidence isn't impossible to overcome yet staying silent won't help you and is a slow death. Learn how to exercise and develop your confidence like a muscle with these best practices.

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If I think back to all the times I wish I said something in a meeting, to a friend, to a family member, I’d tell you what I said! Not always easy, admittedly not always with tact and grace (I blame the Italian in me 😉) but I said it. There was a time where my confidence was lacking, and I didn’t speak what was on my mind. 

For fear of saying the wrong thing.

Fear of looking stupid.

Fear of being unprepared or unknowledgeable. 

Fear of not delivering my message clear and concisely.

Fear of being ignored and not being heard.

Staying silent didn’t help, it set the wrong example to others around me not to mention didn’t support my growth professionally or personally.

Note, this is not to suggest you should blurt out anything that comes to mind and ‘vomit’ onto anyone at any time at work or in your personal relationships. This means finding the courage to say what’s on your mind and in some cases what’s in your heart. Period. 

Whether you’re in an individual contributor role or in an executive leadership role, confidence and communication go hand in hand. In fact, if you ask people to list what some of the qualities are of a leader, confidence is likely part of the list.

Even in the most senior roles, confidence is weaved in every dynamic of their role, yet it can be lacking in an executive’s presence, in the way they communicate and in the way they lead others. If we took this a step further, it often shows up differently for both men and women. 

There are multiple studies and research by now that show gender stereotypes and gender discrimination in the workplace, including how confidence is impacted between the two.

Women are more often than men second-guessing or questioning if they should challenge an idea in a meeting, having difficult conversations or even asking for a promotion, yet men often just tell it like it is usually without blinking an eye.

Silence will not support your growth or develop your confidence muscle. Not to mention it sends the wrong message to everyone, including yourself and continues to widen the gender gap. 

While there’s no one perfect step by step guide or book in building confidence whether it’s in how you communicate or how you lead, there are best practices that can help develop it like a muscle:

1. Mindset. What you think and say to yourself is what you believe. It may sound cliché but what you tell yourself matters. This isn’t necessarily ‘faking it until you make it,’ it’s about nourishing your mind with supportive and kind thoughts that support who you are. Again, confidence-building thoughts! 

2. Start small. Practice expressing yourself and communicating in situations outside the workplace where you feel ‘less pressured.’ Expressing yourself at a restaurant whether it’s paying compliments to your server or even sending something back that you normally would just accept if you’re unhappy with a dish you ordered. The idea is you want to speak up in situations you normally wouldn’t say anything. You can even do this with a friend or family member. Confidence is as much doing as being. 

3. Intention. There’s that word again that will always matter. Think about what the purpose of communicating your idea/thought/feelings are. Is it to prove a point? Is it to share a different perspective? It matters. This is how thinking about your intention before communicating can affect what you say, but more importantly, how you say it. If you consider when you’re in that important meeting and you really want to share your idea before leaving the table, knowing your intention can serve as a reminder and courage to express yourself.

4. Put your thoughts on paper. Until this becomes second nature, write a few bullet points of what you want to share/say beforehand. While you may not always have the time to do this in some cases, in most cases you’re participating in a meeting where you know what the meeting is about. You’ll likely already have a few ideas or things you want to say. Collect your thoughts beforehand and jot down the top 3 things you want to communicate before the meeting ends. If you manage to just get out 1 idea, it’s a start.

5. Wear your confidence. Confidence isn’t in just how you speak and what you say, it’s also in how you show up. As women, we often have a go-to outfit or a ‘power outfit’ that serves as a confidence boost. Whether you’re male or female show up as confident as you want to feel and come across. If it’s a favourite suit or a kick-ass pair of shoes, whatever it is for you – wear it and wear it proudly.

Confidence is developed with practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s you speaking up in front of a mirror, recording yourself so you can hear how you sound or with a trusted colleague/friend/loved one. Recognizing that building confidence isn’t a study and more of an embodiment of expressing yourself in the way you communicate, lead and show up, you develop this by being and doing.

How has confidence affected you in the workplace?

I’d love to learn in the comments below.

To speaking your truth and sharing your voice with confidence!

Lisa xo

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