How to feel more confident at work (not just fake it) | Women's Agenda

How to feel more confident at work (not just fake it)

Let’s face it when it comes to feeling confident at work sometimes we have it, and … sometimes we don’t. Yet we all want it for ourselves, especially in those moments when we hesitate, hold ourselves back or dim ourselves down.

But knowing what to do to feel authentically confident at work is largely misunderstood. Instead of requiring us to act like assertive jerks who insist our opinions be heard, dismiss other people’s ideas or demand we’re paid what we’re worth, researchers suggest that confidence is simply the ability to turn our thoughts into action.

While there is no doubt that both men and women experience feelings of self-doubt, researchers have found women generally suffer a greater lack of confidence at work causing us to ask for pay rises four times less frequently, negotiate salaries of 30% less and not put ourselves forward for promotions unless we meet 100% of the qualifications necessary for a job.

Why do we struggle so much with confidence?

  • While studies suggest the male and female brains are largely the same, it appears there are some small but important differences in structure and chemistry that encourage unique patterns of thinking and behaving that may affect our confidence. For example:
  • Researchers estimate that at any one time the female brain has 30% more neurons firing particularly in the thinking and feeling parts of our brain causing us to ruminate and go over and over things.
  • There’s also a small part of the human brain called the cingulate gyrus, often referred to by researchers as the worry wart because that’s what it does – it helps us to weigh options and recognize errors – and it’s larger in the female brain.
  • As you’re probably aware women generally experience higher levels of estrogen, which drives us to avoid conflict and risk, and lower levels of testosterone, which helps fuel risk taking and winning.

But while this neurological and hormonal cocktail, coupled with our experiences at school, at home, at work and in society may cause women to hesitate be it for fear of failure, a desire to do it perfectly or the need to be liked, researchers also report that a large part of confidence actually comes down to the choices we make each day as we’re going about our jobs.

When it comes down to turning our thoughts into action, the best-selling authors of The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, suggest the linchpin choice may be authenticity. By making a virtue out of our differences instead of trying to hide, erase or change them, we allow confidence to emanate from our core.

Perhaps this is why in a recent study I conducted with the VIA Institute we found that 68% of women now believed that building on their strengths – rather than fixing their weaknesses – is the key to their success at work.

As a result:

  • 58% of women, compared to 53% of men, now reported being able to name their top five strengths – the things they’re good at and actually enjoy doing.
  • 52% of women, compared to 46% of men say they have the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work.

Having taught hundreds of women in technology at NAB to develop their strengths at work over the last year, I’ve seen the impact it can have when women finally feel they have permission to feel authentically confident about the unique value that they bring.

Given researchers have found that the knowledge and use of our strengths is significantly associated with feeling more confident, perhaps it’s no surprise that for the women who use their strengths at work each day, 76% believe they are making a difference and that what they do is appreciated and 69% describe themselves as flourishing over the last six months.

If you’re looking for a simple way to confidently and authentically put your strengths to work, join the free Strengths Challenge from August 17 – 21, 2015 or visit for free tools and resources.


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