Ask the Experts: Building Up Your Confidence
Our panel of experts recently discussed some questions put forward by the everywoman community about building confidence, particularly in the workplace.
Panel: Sarah Hargreaves, Media Consultant and Executive Coach at Sarah Hargreaves Media, Nina Grunfeld, founder of Life Clubs, and Lynne Bell, Director of Motivational Leadership
My end of year review is coming up, I know I get paid less than my colleagues – what strategies can I use to appear confident when asking for a pay rise?
Lynne: In any organisation it’s important to understand the company’s position regarding pay rises, as well as your own. There aren’t many people in any organisation that wouldn’t like a pay rise but it is not always easy for managers to deliver, so you have to consider things from both sides to be sure you are in a strong position.
Firstly, prepare your case. Ask yourself what it is that you bring to the team and organisation that justifies a pay increase? Be honest with yourself. Are your colleagues performing exactly the same role as you? Are you performing to the same standard as them? What could you do in addition to your role that might merit a pay rise? Are there any special projects or additional responsibilities that would make justification easier? Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and see your request from their point of view.
Familiarise yourself with the company’s policy on pay increases – are there pay bands where specific competence must be met before a pay increase is given? Do you meet those competencies? Prepare the evidence. What’s the current financial state of the organisation? Would a particular precedent be set if the company gave you a pay rise? Document your answers.
Once you are sure you have a strong case, book a meeting with your manager. Present your case and keep the emotion out of your conversation – you are two adults and it is important that your manager can see that you have considered his/her position as well as your own. If you are in an organisation of any size, it’s likely that your manager is not in a position to make a final decision. If so, it’s important that you get your manager’s agreement, in principle, to the case you’re presenting. If not, he/she will not be prepared to make the case on your behalf.
If, despite your best efforts and your objectivity, the answer is that a pay rise will not be forthcoming then what will you do? You may decide that the company does not value you as much as you do or you may enter discussions which mean that a personal development plan could be put in place, so that you can reach a particular standard or that will prepare you for promotion. If your case is strong but they simply cannot afford to give you more money is there anything else that they could give you? Sending you on a training course or reducing your hours are examples of other ways in which you could be rewarded. Whatever the outcome, retain your dignity and professionalism. Your integrity is worth more in the long term.
Sarah: Make sure you've made a list of the things you've achieved this year - not just vague things like 'I've done well' but detail, 'I've brought in X amount of business', 'I've taken on extra duties such as training new colleagues'. Being sure of your achievements and the value you've added will make you feel more confident. Some people feel more confident if they pretend they are negotiating for a colleague, or they are their own agent rather than themselves. And if you are sure colleagues who do the same work are getting more, then ask why that is. Keep your voice calm and factual, and don't let yourself get drawn into an emotional response - this is work!
My performance review provided 360 degrees feedback where some colleagues felt I came across as quite aggressive. I’ve always been confident in my abilities and don’t feel I’m aggressive in putting my point across – how can I deal with the situation to achieve team harmony?
Lynne: Imagine a scale with ‘Aggression’ at one end, ‘Non-Assertive’ at the other and ‘Assertive’ in the middle. For team harmony, we all want to tread the middle ground and relate to one another as adults who have the right to be respected as individuals, to be treated with courtesy, to ask for what we want, to make mistakes and have a point of view. In other words we want to be assertive – standing up for ourselves and our rights in such a way that the other person’s rights are not violated.
Consider how you put your point across, both verbally and through your body language – do you give away tell-tale signs that the other person could interpret as you being patronising, condescending, blaming or manipulating? Do they perceive you as making personal criticism? If so, they will perceive this as aggressive behaviour – that somehow you consider yourself and your opinions and ideas to be superior to others’ in the team.
Develop an ‘Assertiveness Mindset’. Ensure that you treat others as mature adults who are fundamentally ‘OK’ people with rights which need to be respected. Make sure that you give people the opportunity to have their say and listen to their point of view.
Sarah: Sometimes people can seem aggressive, and not realise it, when they are not listening to other people. Do you ever cut across colleagues when they are speaking? Or dismiss their ideas because you are sure yours are the best? Teams work best when people respect one another, and part of that is listening to other people. Being confident is great, but just check that you aren't behaving like a team of one.
My business partner is a lot more confident than me and I feel like I’m letting the side down – how can I emulate them?
Sarah: If everyone who worked in a small business was the same, with the same skills, the businesses would all fail! Your colleague might be confident in some ways, but I bet you have other skills and experience that they value. If it's really making you feel bad, then you must talk to your business partner a bit more about how you are both doing and what's important for the business - more concentration on what you need to achieve together will remind you why you got together in the first place.
Nina: Do you want to emulate them? How good would it be for your business if you were a couple of clones? I’m sorry your partner is making you feel under-confident. Maybe it’s time to ask for the odd bit of praise. But seriously, what was it about you that made your partner want to start a business with you in the first place? If you’re not sure, ask them - and everyone else you know.
Remember that you’re unique and it’s your strengths that make you so attractive to your business partner - and anyone else you’re working with. Rather than becoming them, be you and fully aware about what you bring to the table.
I’m always having great ideas for businesses but am afraid they will fail, I’m ambitious but not confident – what should I do?
Lynne: Starting a new business is always a little scary and the difference between those who ‘do’ and those who ‘don’t’ is often a fear of failure. Human beings are remarkably adept at talking themselves out of things and then, sometime later, kicking themselves when they see their business idea succeeds in someone else’s hands.
Firstly, let’s consider the ‘fear’ aspect. Fear takes many forms – something that frightens me (heights in my case) may exhilarate and thrill you. When I analyse my fear of heights it is not actually the height I am afraid of but the idea that I will fall and injure myself, stopping me from doing the things I love. Ask yourself what it is that you really fear when you consider implementing your business ideas – is it the lack of personal interaction (you work better as part of a team), lack of structure (you may not have the self-discipline to put the work in and have too many duvet days!), lack of direction (you need to be managed), lack of money (you can’t afford to be without a pay cheque for even a week)? When you can identify what you may lose you can address it. Only when the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived disadvantages will you move forward.
Secondly, let’s consider the ‘confidence’ aspect. We are confident when we truly believe we have the knowledge and skills to do something. Take one of your ideas and develop a business plan – there are many templates available on the internet or use a coach. The planning process will help you understand your potential market, what support you may need, whether you have the required skills and will enable you to study the financial truths of your business idea. By planning you will either go into your business with the confidence of someone who knows what opportunities and pitfalls are ahead or you’ll make a sound decision not to pursue the idea. Either way, you are in charge – good luck!
Sarah: Having great ideas is fantastic, you're very lucky to have a sparky mind. But 'sparks', as ideas people are sometime called, often need 'doers' to make sure their ideas become reality. Perhaps you need to team up with someone practical who has the experience and confidence to make things happen?
I’m working from home, having set up my own business six months ago, I realise I’m not as confident in client meetings as I used to be, it’s effecting my business – what can I do?
Sarah: It's quite common for people who work alone at home to start feeling a bit isolated and unconfident. Make sure you get out a bit during the week, even if it's only for a coffee with an old work colleague. Telling them what you are up to and giving them advice or help will remind you that you are good at your job. And even when you're working from home, remember it is work, so don't sit around in PJs - you need to keep your professional persona alive and kicking!
Nina: I’m making an assumption that you were in employment until six months ago and that you’re finding both the change of lifestyle plus having to ‘show off’ your own business, rather than someone else’s, quite difficult.
Selling your own business to clients is one of the hardest (and ultimately most rewarding) things we can do. You’re putting yourself and your service/product ‘out there’ and any rejection feels like a double/triple whammy. What did you do differently when you were in employment? How did you detach yourself from the process? What was going through your mind in client meetings? You want to become that individual again, when you didn’t care as much about how successful you were. If you can find and use that same perspective, you’ll be fine. Or, if you can imagine it, use the perspective of having already made the sale and feeling great. Fake it ‘til you make it. After a few sales your confidence will soar and you’ll feel (and become) even more powerful than you were before.
I’ve always been shy but my job involves networking with new people which terrifies me – what can I do to make the experience more pleasurable?
Sarah: Start small - work out a few opening lines and then try them out, a few at a time. You'll be surprised how many people will be feeling just like you and they'll be grateful to you for breaking the ice. If it's possible, get attendance lists for events in advance and work out who you'll have something in common with. Like going to a party, a smile is the best ammunition, and it does get easier, every time you do it!
Nina: What is networking really? It’s just meeting new people and forming a connection, and I bet you’ve got lots of friends who you had to meet at one stage of your life or another. Most people like to talk about themselves and, I’m sure, you’re great at listening. Ask them a few simple questions about work and home and watch their body language. When you can see their eyes lighting up and their faces looking animated, focus on that topic. Get curious about them. Before long they’ll be wanting to do business with you and you’ll have learnt about a new person, which is always rewarding.
My friends shared an investment and invited me but I was not confidnet so didn’t take part. They ended up losing a lot of money. Is there a case for being underconfident sometimes?
Sarah: I think you may be more risk averse than your friends, not necessarily less confident - and in this case you were absolutely right to be cautious. Some people like risk, others don't, and if you go against your intrinsic nature you'll feel very uncomfortable. I'd say you're no risk taker, and that's nothing to feel worried about!
Nina: I don’t think you were underconfident. I think you trusted your intuition and went against the crowd - two things that only a highly confident person would do. Congratulations.
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