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How to Build Your Confidence at Work

Let’s set the scene: September, 2015.

A co-op student trails in to a crowded meeting room behind her manager. Before the meeting begins the manager says: “Would you like to introduce yourself?”

And the response slips out: “Oh, well, I’m just a co-op student…”

Yep, this is how I chose to make one of my first impressions at RBC. Despite my sense of achievement in landing the role and my excitement at being ready to prove my capabilities, my own lack of confidence was there to undermine me before I’d even begun.

Confidence is one of those soft skills that experts agree is key to professional success. If you are confident you are more likely to:

  • Take on challenging assignments that help build skills
  • Be an attractive colleague to work with
  • Be perceived as credible and in control (aka: leadership material)
  • Stand out – especially when it comes to raise, bonuses and promotions.

But if you’re a bit more naturally on the self-doubting side, what can you do to build your confidence at work?

"A little healthy doubt can be used to your advantage: identify risks, challenge conventional wisdom, and acknowledge uncertainties. Ask for help if you need it."

Here are three tactics that I’ve found have helped me along the way:

1. Give yourself a pep talk

Remind yourself that you landed this job for a reason. A hiring manager picked you (yes, you!) out of a pile of hundreds of applicants. You are literally the right person for the job, or else you wouldn’t be here. Whenever I get plagued with that little voice of self-doubt, I like to remind myself of the things I’m proud of, the skills I have and the value I offer.

2. Take feedback seriously

This is a thing I have actually done before: heard a manager praising my work, and instead of allowing myself to enjoy the sense of accomplishment from doing a good job, I have instead thought to myself, “Oh, they probably don’t mean it, they’re just being nice…” If someone says you’ve done a good job – allow yourself to feel that praise! And make a mental note of how and why you were successful.

On the other hand, you should also allow yourself to hear constructive criticism without allowing it to torpedo your confidence: take this as a sign that your manager is willing to take the time and effort to help you develop, not as criticism. I’ve found that taking a positive and open approach to feedback of all shades has been vital in learning how to improve myself: and after all, the better you get, the more confident you’ll be!

"Whether in your personal or professional life, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a great way to build your skills and your sense of your own capabilities."
3. Do things that challenge you

Step up to a project that will push your skills to the edge, take on a volunteer role in a completely new area… if there’s something that causes a slight tremble of fear in your belly I recommend that you challenge yourself to take it on. Whether in your personal or professional life, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a great way to build your skills and your sense of your own capabilities.

There’s one final lesson I want to share: remember your lack of confidence doesn’t always have to be a weakness. When confidence tips into arrogance, it can be a huge turn off for those around you. A little healthy doubt can be used to your advantage: identify risks, challenge conventional wisdom, and acknowledge uncertainties. Ask for help if you need it. And don’t put yourself down for being more cautious, but find ways to harness your outlook on the world to your team’s advantage.

To fully understand and accept yourself - to be your unique and authentic self in the workplace - now, that’s real confidence.

Alisa Bristow has recently completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Human Resources Management, at George Brown College in Toronto. As part of her program, she worked at RBC as an Organizational Change Management Analyst within Technology and Operations"

"Ask for help if you need it. And don’t put yourself down for being more cautious, but find ways to harness your outlook on the world to your team’s advantage."