If you haven’t met me, I suppose you could say one of the last things people think about me is, “Wow, this woman really lacks confidence.” I teach confidence, I speak in front of hundreds of people regularly about confidence, I try to exude strength and confidence in everything I do. I FEEL confident most of the time, but there are also times when I don’t. During these moments of obvious uncertainty, I learned to put into play some skills to snap out of it.
Through all my talks and lectures, even I need a reminder sometimes. Even I need to make sure my confidence is coming through in all that I do; during one notable season of my life, it wasn’t.
I was playing professional basketball. At first I was excited to share the news, but quickly grew tired of the onslaught of attention I was receiving when I revealed my chosen profession. So I stopped telling people. Instead, I’d say I was in “athletics” and try to leave it at that. Basically, I started downplaying who I am and what I do. The habit of downplaying continued after I was no longer playing professional basketball. I found myself being really vague and sort of shrinking behind the words, “I own my own business”. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of my business, or my accomplishments, I just didn’t like the burden of attention every time I said it.
The moment it changed
But then I started taking notice of the people in my field, and I saw people (mostly men if you want to know the truth) boldly telling their stories. Even the ones who hadn’t done what I’d done were telling their stories. Some talked it up so much, they made it sound as if they were curing cancer.
To be honest, it sort of pissed me off. But then I thought, “Yeah, but at least they’re telling their story!” Good for them for having the balls to do it (excuse the pun). Besides, it wasn’t really them that I was pissed off at. I was angry at myself. What I learned is that women especially, playing business or ball, are often selling ourselves short in our stories, and in turn on our calling. While talking about yourself too much sounds like (and is) a really bad idea, it’s important to realize there is a difference between suffocating people with your accomplishments, and simply being honest about what you do and who you are…with confidence.
Don’t keep your awesomeness a secret.
Don’t keep your awesomeness a secret. If you do, I guarantee that someone else is shouting theirs from the rooftop while you’re whispering in the corner. And when you aren’t being heard, it means that your message, your vision, your calling, isn’t being heard by the world. And that isn’t doing anyone good.
This begs the question, why do women apologize for being good at something?
About a year ago, during an interview with a young female sales person, I asked her “What do you like about sales?“. She responded, “Sorry if this sounds bad, but I like it because I’m pretty good at it.” Always the life coach, I asked, “Why are you apologizing? You’re either good at sales or you aren’t. Which is it?” She responded that, in fact, she was good at sales, but only admitted it because I forced her to choose between two options, GOOD or BAD.
I get this a lot in the confidence work I do with athletes. I’ll ask an entire room of female athletes, “Who’s the best athlete in the room?” Guess who raises their hand? Not the best player; the women raise their hands just to point away from themselves at the best player in the room (either that, or it’s the male assistant coach raising his hand!).
I think this is a message for everyone, I think it’s especially important for young women to hear.
But, do men downplay? Of course they do, just not as often as women. Suffice to say, while I think this is a message for everyone, I think it’s especially important for young women to hear. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. According to Christopher Peterson, a professor at University of Michigan, women tend to use language that creates room for doubt more often than men. He calls this tendency ‘up-speak’, meaning that women tend to raise their voice at the end of sentences when they say something.
This tiny inflection comes across a bit like a verbal question mark. In other words, it gives the listener room to argue, and gives the speaker the ability to say something that isn’t threatening. The problem with up-speak is that it creates a sense that their statement or opinion being expressed isn’t worthy, that the speaker doesn’t mean it, or that it is not valid. It’s the inflection version of saying:
“I sort of think x, but if you think y, it’s like totally fine. I mean, whatever you think is great. I don’t really know what I’m talking about anyway, so we should just go with whatever you think because you probably know better.”
Not a particularly powerful way to communicate, is it? What needs to change? Women and men both need to do a few things to stop this bad habit of not telling their stories.
Here is a list of 5 things you can do to build a habit of confidence
1. Ladies, get your sales pitch down
Like many things, it’s easier if you have a plan ahead of time about what you are going to say, and how you are going to respond so that you aren’t caught off guard. Whether it’s the response to “What do you do?”, “What are you good at?”, or “What makes you YOU?”, have a response ready. Talking about my accomplishments is something that is neither fun nor comes particularly naturally to me. So how do you go about making something unnatural feel natural? That brings us to the next point…
Everything that is scripted ahead of time sounds weird coming out of your mouth at first. Practice until it sounds natural and normal. Also, this helps ensure that it’s YOUR voice, and not an automation of you trying to remember some paragraphs you wrote down to remember. Personally, I think my answer to “What do you do?” looks weird when I write it out. But when I actually say it, it sounds like me because I’ve practiced it and made it my own. Now I practice saying “I’m a mental training coach, and an entrepreneur with a company that focuses on teaching athletes how to be more mentally tough in all they do.” A lot better than “uhhhhhhh, I own my own business…?”
3. Cheer for other women
Why are women so bad at boosting each other up? It’s because there are some biological reasons for this throughout human history. Regardless, it’s not cool. Yet it’s a habit that most women adopt early on. The good news is that it is a breakable habit. And the really good news is that the better you feel about yourself, the easier it becomes to cheer for others.
4. Call women out on it
Do you notice up-speak or body language lacking confidence? Do you hear women around you apologizing for their awesomeness? Do you do it yourself? Many women do it and few are truly aware they are actually doing it. After all, it’s hard (if not impossible) to really listen and analyze what you are saying and how you are saying it. We need mirrors around us to let us know how we are doing. Be that mirror for a woman in your life and let her know it’s okay to talk and act and sound confident.
5. Talk about it
Insecurity is not the easiest topic to ask others about, but it helps a ton if you can. I have some pretty badass women in my life circles; head coaches at big universities, women who run entire departments at Amazon, business owners, Olympic athletes… and every time I bring up the fact that I’m working on being more bold in my personal story, they identify with it too.
These are strong, accomplished, badass chicks and they have to work on telling their awesome story?! Wow! Just knowing that it’s something they struggle with as well – that I’m not alone – helps me to fight through it too.
Also published on Medium.