It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I lack confidence.
If you met me, that likely is not what you would say about me. And I wouldn’t either, until my CEO commented recently that I seemed not to have enough confidence to share my opinions in meetings. He encouraged me by saying he valued my point of view and wanted me to express it, even – perhaps especially – when it differed from his. To underscore his point, he shared that he never considered my opinions a personal affront to him or as my being defensive of my perspective.
And that’s when the bricks fell…but not because I hadn’t realized that I lacked confidence. They fell because I realized that my loss of confidence stemmed from changes I had made to address inaccurate feedback from a previous manager. Sounds crazy, huh? But it’s true! Here’s what happened…
My manager told me that I seemed ‘defensive’ whenever I shared a differing opinion in meetings. I was told that I needed to work on being less defensive and critical. I was shocked to hear that feedback. No one had ever claimed that about me before. Plus, I knew in my heart and soul that I had spent years as a dancer receiving criticism and constructive feedback without issue. What was this manager talking about?
I immediately asked several friends and trusted colleagues whether I seemed defensive about my opinions. I wanted to know if I was simply blind to this aspect of my character or if this defensiveness was real. Everyone I asked vehemently disagreed with my manager’s assessment. Everyone. And that should have given me a clue.
But, instead of listening to the counsel of the people I trusted the most, I accepted my manager’s opinion about my so-called defensiveness at face value. I failed to see that the feedback might have had more to do with the person giving it than actual reality. I thought I was the one who needed to change.
So I did. I became ‘less defensive’ in the eyes of my manager by becoming quiet, docile, and less opinionated. And the obvious consequence? I lost my voice. And right along with it went my confidence.
When my current manager made the comment about my confidence the other day, I recognized the truth in his statement. And this time, when I checked in with my friends and colleagues about it, they agreed. So, I knew it was accurate.
That was the first big difference between my current feedback and the comments from my previous manager. The second major difference was that my current boss didn’t just end our conversation by simply saying I needed to change and walking away. He encouraged me to speak up in meetings and to recognize and own that what I say has value. In short, he created a safe environment for me to regain my voice and my confidence.
To make the change toward a more confident me, I used an approach shared in a training I recently attended. The approach is to become consciously aware of a weakness, recognize it each time it occurs, then actively fix it each time you see it. Eventually, you know you have mastered the new behavior when you hardly even notice you are doing something differently. I like the approach because it follows simple steps:
- Recognize. Identify a weakness you have. Ask your colleagues, friends, and manager for feedback. If it is a real weakness, more than a couple people will recognize it. (If you don’t find common ground on this weakness, find something else to work on and start this step again.)
- Rectify. Change your behavior each time you become aware of the weakness. For example, if you know you interject the word ‘like’ too much when speaking, take a breath or close your mouth each time you want to say it out loud, and say it in your head instead.
- Reflect. Journal or use your meetings with your boss or mentor to look at your progress. Say, “Here is where I failed at identifying or correcting my weakness this week, and here is what I will do in the future.” Or, “Here is where I excelled this week. Yay for me!”
- Reach out. Ask your friends, manager or colleagues to weigh in on your progress as you master your new skill. Keep working at it until everyone agrees you’ve met your goal.
- Repeat. Find your next area you want to improve, and do it all again!
Through all of this, be patient and kind to yourself. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing!