How to boost your confidence at work

baby meme

This past week, I was invited to join a senior management meeting on behalf of my boss. Normally, this would be a great opportunity to gain exposure to leaders way above my pay grade.

However, I knew this meeting was going to be terribly uncomfortable. I not only had to present bad news, but also my team had made certain business decisions that some meeting members opposed.  

On top of that, only people with 20+ years of work experience were attending the meeting, and then there was me…who is less than 2 years out of business school. I could envision boss’s boss’s bosses throwing darts at me while I stand on top of the meeting room table wearing nothing but a giant diaper. A proud moment indeed…

With an uphill battle to fight, I needed a quick shot of confidence to overcome my nerves and stand by my team’s position.

Here are some ways I tried to zap confidence into myself.

1. Know your stuff: Nobody likes to be caught with their pants down. In the days leading to the meeting, I sharpened my message, anticipated potential questions, and gathered the necessary data / analysis to support my stance. The key is to look prepared and like you know what you’re talking about.

2. Dress to impress: We are all superficial creatures. We tend to make snap judgments of others based on the way they look. He, with the untucked shirt and disheveled hair, looks like he just woke up. She, with the short and tight skirt, looks like she’s fond of a certain kind of attention. At work, the key is to look sharp. Whether your workplace dress code is business formal, business casual, or just casual, make sure you look impeccable…much like Miranda Kerr and James Bond below.

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james bond

3. Give yourself a pep talk: Talking to yourself can seem a bit loony, but giving yourself a pep talk can be quite effective. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Use these reminders to justify why you deserve a seat at the meeting room table (or a job position or even a date with someone).

4. Power pose: In her popular TedTalk, Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy discusses how our body language not only influence how others see us but also how we see ourselves. By simply changing our pose for 2 minutes, we can feel significantly more confident. Check out the pose spectrum…

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5. Smile! When we are nervous, the last thing we want to do is smile. More often, we put on a frown and furrow our brows while trying to curl ourselves into a fetal position. However, studies indicate that we can actually become happier by smiling (rather just smile because we are happy). Next time you find yourself filled with nerves, just smile and you will feel happier and more relaxed.

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3 conversations to re-energize yourself at work

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I had been getting bogged down at work. It happens almost without you noticing. You attend one too many meetings (with questionable value add). You juggle more office politics than usual because someone’s ego issues (aka. insecurity). You have to work with negative people (with little rainy clouds over their heads). You spend hours on tedious work (also with some questionable value add and that could be outsourced to monkeys). It happens.

However, in the past 1-2 weeks, I engaged in 3 conversations that remarkably renewed my sense of purpose at work.

1. Talk to your customers

This could be the easiest way to lift you out of a work rut (unless you have really terrible customers or your organization provides a really terrible product or service). Since I work in agriculture, speaking to my customers (who are mostly smallholder farmers) reminds me how I am able to help them increase their incomes. With higher incomes, they are able to keep their children in school, provide them with more opportunities, and break the cycle of poverty.  For me, that is incredibly motivating.

For people without customer-facing jobs, this is particularly critical because it puts into context the purpose of your role which may not always be obvious. For example, if your job is packaging in supply chain, then visiting a customer’s warehouse makes you realize that good packaging could really make a difference as your company’s boxes would stand out next to those of competitors, or your products are easier to move because they have handles on the side, or different products are easily identifiable so the customer doesn’t pull the wrong box, etc.

For people with customer-facing roles, it’s meaningful to engage your customers on a more personal level. Shelf the normal business talk (e.g., sales next quarter) to truly listen and learn about the way they use your products / service and what they think about it. Negative feedback can also provide good motivation for you to do something about it.

2. Talk to people that want to work at your organization

Through alumni networks, LinkedIn or other references, I get pinged by people that are interested in working at my company. I find it refreshing to talk to them because it reminds me what it was like when I was in that position — how excited I was to get an interview, how eager I was to get an offer letter, how I visualized myself walking around the office. Most importantly, it reminds me why I wanted this job in the first place.

Therefore, go ahead and chat with those eager beavers that want your job! They can help you take a step back, realize what you take for granted, and re-inject a sense of purpose.

3. Talk to a stranger about your job

2 weeks ago, I attended a networking event, where people inevitably trade name cards and ask about what you do. At first, I felt like a broken tape recorder saying, “My name is…. and I work at ….. as a …….”. However, I ran into a few people that were somehow genuinely curious about my work. I started explaining in more detail about the purpose of my company and my job as well as industry trends. Before long, I was really getting into it. I almost felt bad for taking up so much air time.

Talking to a stranger about your job forces you to strip out the monotonous work involving pointless reports or pre-pre-pre-meetings and forces you to focus on the important parts of your work.

Next time, when you find yourself in a deep dark rut, where you’re about to stab yourself in the eye. Go out and talk to people. They will help you re-focus and strip out the noise. If you’re still grumpy after these conversations, then perhaps it’s time for a new job. As Mother Teresa astutely once said:

Work without love is slavery.