Please Don’t Tell Me To Be More Confident

Paula Kiger
Mar 23, 2017 · 3 min read
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Bykst: Pixabay

Every. Single. Supervisor. I have ever had has, in one way or another, advised me to “trust yourself more” and/or “be more confident.”

Most recently, one of my bosses (I have two part-time gigs), someone I LOVE personally and professionally, said, “If I had a magic wand to wave and make you more confident, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Me too, beloved boss/friend, me too.

In case you find yourself supervising someone who is extremely competent yet conversely inherently unconfident, be aware:

  1. Fixing the problem is never as simple as saying “be more confident.” Doing that is as futile as telling a grouper to buzz over to a flower and collect some pollen. Two entirely different things.
  2. What got me to this place doesn’t excuse it now that I have been an adult for decades, but I didn’t become this insecure yesterday. It’s a combination of my genetic makeup, the unique combination of functions/dysfunctions I grew up with, and perhaps zigging when I could have or should have zagged as my career (and life) unfolded.
  3. Although every insecure person is unique, I suspect I am not alone in my issue being one of mastery. I know there is a certain point in every learning process that I “get it,” and after that I am a force to be reckoned with (that doesn’t mean I am arrogant about my skills and closed to the prospect of continuing to learn and accept correction — it means I am not internally paralyzed by the fear of utterly failing to measure up — it means I can help someone else develop, which is the best feeling of all).
  4. Look at your onboarding process and think about how people learn differently (auditory, visual, etc.) and at different paces. I suspect if my learning curve were compared to others in a similar setting, I *may* be slower than average BUT once I have the learning down, I will be one of the organization’s most reliable assets. My higher frequency of questions is not a sign I’m unconfident; it’s a sign I have a great eye for detail and systems and want to understand how it all fits together. Take the time to teach me or designate someone I can ask.
  5. Expose me to the big picture. Help me understand how my particular task fits in with overall goals and I will be that much more motivated by a sense of purpose.
  6. Recognize that my real work is inward. As Shauna Niequist writes, “ What people think of you means nothing In comparison to what you believe about yourself.”

I have to admit, during the most recent supervisory iteration of “if you were only more confident,” I felt a reaction that was somewhat new to me after hearing that: ANGER.

The anger wasn’t exactly directed at her, but at how extremely difficult it is to eke out a drop of self-assurance when your internal monologue is spewing a constant stream of “you must not be good enough,” “how could you have screwed up again?,” “why would someone as flawed as you even try?,” and any other of a number of negative messages.

Having supervised people in the past, I have asked myself many times what I would have said to someone under my direction who was exhibiting self-confidence issues. Would I have done the same thing? Told them to “trust themselves”?

I can honestly say I have never said that to someone who reported to me. I like to think I would have recognized the signs of insecurity BEFORE a formal review process or crisis ….. that I would have found a way to elicit that drop of self-assurance if I thought they were inwardly drowning under a flood of self doubt.

All I know is instilling confidence in an insecure employee is less a matter of plugging something in but more a matter of figuring out how the wiring got misconfigured in the first place.

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