At our 2019 Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference last month, Anna Johnstone, senior coach at Women Returners, led a session on how to boost professional confidence. Here are some takeouts from that session.
One of the recurring themes we see when we coach returners is lack of professional confidence. The women we work with may be very confident in their personal life, but often doubt their self-worth when it comes to returning to the workplace. They may think “What have I got to offer? Will I be able to do the job? What value can I add? Will an employer even want to hire me?” We hear these doubts again and again.
Our senior coach, Anna Johnstone, focussed on tackling a lack of professional confidence head on at our recent Conference by focussing on three key areas – 1) internal feelings of worth and self-belief, 2) outer confidence – your gravitas, the impact that you have, and 3) reframing confidence as courage.
1) Inner confidence – feelings of worth and self-belief
Some people refer to self-belief as having backbone. But Anna says that improving your self-belief is a bit like strengthening the muscles around your backbone which may have become a little weak during a career break. Self-doubt – your inner critic or gremlin – may be telling you that you’ve lost your skills, you’re too old or that you’ll never get back up to speed with technology.
Here are Anna’s tips for dealing with your inner critic and boosting your self-belief:
- Try reframing the way you think. Instead of thinking, for example, “I will never get back up to speed” say to yourself – “my inner critic is telling me I will never get back up to speed”
- This is a subtle, but effective, change which will make you question negative assumptions. It may also bring out the fight in you so that you think “someone is telling me that I’m not going to get back up to speed – but I am going to get back up to speed.”
- Remember that you also have another internal voice – your inner mentor. This is the voice of someone who cares about you – it’s calm, kind and supportive. Learn to listen to this voice and to dial it up so that it becomes louder than your inner critic
- Remind yourself of the things you are good at – it’s a great way to boost self-belief. Remember that you have a wealth of skills and experience developed throughout your career and your career break – write these down and practise saying them out loud
2) Outer confidence – how do you act more confident even if you have doubts on the inside?
- Think about your body – if you change how you sit and stand this will change the way you think. For example, putting your feet firmly on the ground so that you feel solid can really help if you’re about to go into a situation that makes you feel stressed
- Roll back and lower your shoulders. This will take the tension out of your shoulders and allow you to breathe better
- Breathe deeply from your diaphragm – in through your nose, out through your mouth – five times. This will help dissipate doubts and anxieties and strengthen your voice – particularly important just before an interview!
- Watch Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose TEDTalk – and practise ‘power posing’ every morning and before facing any situation you find stressful
- If you hear yourself speaking quickly make a conscious effort to slow down. People will hear more of what you say and speaking slower has the added bonus of giving you more time to think
- Feel more confident at interviews and meetings by wearing something that makes you feel good about yourself and gives you a boost
3) Reframe confidence as courage
- The problem with thinking “if only I had more confidence I would send this email, apply for that role, phone my contact etc” is that you end up waiting to feel more confident, which can stop you from taking action
- Instead of focusing on having more confidence, try focusing on having more courage
- Courage is when you decide to do something difficult even though you may have doubts, even though you feel afraid
- Courage is a much more positive word – aim to dial your courage up a notch to help you to take action despite your self-doubts.
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