How to be confident at work

By Anna Maconochie for How To


There are a few lucky people who feel utterly confident at what they do for a living. Most of us, however, could use a little help. We are paid to work and feel we must demonstrate our worth according to the price that has been set. Sometimes beyond that price if we are seeking a promotion or live in fear of losing our job. Living in fear – of losing the job or simply appearing ‘unprofessional’ – erodes our confidence and unfortunately makes our fears more likely to become real as stress starts to affect our performance. In their book How to Be Confident and Assertive at Work, Conrad and Suzanne Potts offer some practical techniques to rebuild workplace confidence. Read on for some of their best tips. 

Body language 

It’s easy to forget non-verbal behavior, i.e. body language. So what is it? Posture, eye contact, distance/space between you and others, gestures, head movements and facial expressions. Body language also includes the non-verbal aspects of speaking, such as tone, pausing between words, accent and emphasis. 

The key to using the body to enhance confidence, especially during a discussion or confrontation is to think of it as part of one system with the mind so that they are not giving a conflicting message. 

The ‘earthed’ position 

The Pottses recommend adopting an ‘earthed’ position. This makes the body appear strong and confident. The more you practice it at work, the faster your mind will catch up to the message of confidence you are sending yourself – ‘fake it till you make it’ style. 

To stand in an earthed position: 

 ·  Plant both feet firmly on the ground 

 ·  Relax into your body (take a deep breath in and out) 

 ·  Open yourself wide and let go of any tension in your body from your shoulders down 

 ·  Open the palms of your hands 

Note that the earthed position can adopted while you are sitting: 

 ·  Plant your feet firmly on the floor 

 ·  Sit up straight and support your back with the chair so that your body is erect. Your head will automatically feel more alert. 

Using assertive language at work 
‘Assertive’ doesn’t mean ‘aggressive’. If you are assertive, it means you put yourself forward – you bring opinions to a discussion or state your needs clearly and firmly. Here are some more specific examples of assertive language patterns to practice using: 

‘I’ language indicating ownership of ideas, views and feelings 
‘I want us in the future to work directly with each other so we can get the best results.’    

Direct self-expression of your thoughts and feelings 
‘When you cancel meetings at short notice, I feel frustrated as it attacks our credibility.’    

Stating what you want 
I’d like us to sit down and work out a plan so we don’t run into the same problems.’    

Focus on specific behavior and facts instead of opinions 
‘Harry, I noticed the presentation you went through made our company goals for this quarter very easy to understand. Everyone said the same. Thank you.’    

Allowing others to choose for themselves (giving them power) 
‘I’d like to budget for this. How do you feel?’    

Saying ‘No’

We fear that if we say ‘no’ we will lose everything. Our boss’s good mood, our colleagues’ respect, maybe even our job. So we become ‘yes men’ who only say no when they are bursting at the seams with too much to do. It becomes harder and harder to work out what we actually mean when we say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ which detracts from our clarity. 

The benefits of saying ‘no’ assertively:

 ·  Displays self-belief

 ·  Earns respect

 ·  Maintains your psychological health and confidence

 ·  Gets you and a colleague closer to a win-win where both parties will be satisfied

 ·  Creates better time management – you won’t be so overloaded   

How to say a good ‘no’ - The ‘No’ Sandwich

This is a series of three steps to practice:    

Step 1 (slice of bread) 
Acknowledge/empathise with the request. 
‘Ellen, I know you want me to complete the budget spreadsheet by noon as you need to review it for your meeting tomorrow but that is too tight a deadline for me.’    

Step 2 (sandwich filling) 
Say ‘no’ and give the real reason you can’t complete the request. 
'I won’t be completing it by noon because that will compromise the other time-sensitive work I am doing for you which came first and needs to be completed.’

Step 3 (final piece of bread)
Say what you are prepared to do this time/in the future and offer a win-win.

‘Ellen, I am here to support you and would like to put some time in the diary for next month’s budget spreadsheet so we aren’t caught short next time.’   

Suzanne Potts is an international motivational speaker and management trainer and Conrad Potts is a psychologist, consultant and management trainer. Together they run Teamskills, a network of management and leadership consultants dedicated to excellence in the development of leadership and team skills. They have 60 years combined experience in training organisations and their staff to be assertive. They are the authors of How to be Confident and Assertive at Work (Robinson). 

How to be Confident and Assertive at Work: Practical tools and techniques that you can put into use immediately (Robinson) by Suzanne and Conrad Potts