Starting a new job, or your first one, where you are part of an office is a daunting process - especially for an introvert. A new place, new faces and names to remember, and lots of awkward “Tell me about yourself” conversations. Everyone is trying to work you out, see where you’re going to fit in, and fit you into the pecking order.
I know this is something a lot of people - not only introverts - dread. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who recently joined a large marketing firm. She asked me, “How are you so confident at your work? When I open my mouth it seems like no one listens, so I just have stopped contributing ideas.”
I considered my reply carefully because her questioned resonated with me so profoundly. I was instantly transported back to my first few weeks at work where I was constantly nervous, operating in my own little bubble that I was super afraid to break out of.
What if they think I’m an idiot.
So how have I gone from that, to where I am today - MD of a spinoff business I helped start, conducting interviews, negotiating deals in meetings and doing lots of grown-up things.
The 5-Why’s Technique
Confidence in the work-place comes from confidence in yourself.
It’s almost impossible to exude an aura of confidence at work if deep down you are insecure about your abilities. So don’t be.
If you’re an insecure person, like I was (and still am to an extent), do a deep dive and go to the root of those insecurities.
This is something I did myself and worked a dream in helping me rationalize my fears of being inadequate. There’s a method I learned during my studies as a mechanical engineer for problem solving that I applied here quite successfully.
The 5-Why’s technique was first used in Japan by Sakichi Toyoda. Toyoda developed the technique for his company, Toyota - you might have heard of them. Toyota still uses it to problem solve issues today.
The just of it is that you start with the problem you’re facing and ask Why? five times until you get to the root of the issue. Then you can go about solving the root cause by providing a counter-measure so the symptom (five levels up) will be fixed.
Here’s an example:
Problem: I battle to voice my opinion during group meetings
Why do I battle to voice my opinion during group meetings?: I am insecure about talking out loud in front of people.
Why am I insecure about talking out loud in front of people?: I am afraid of being wrong.
Why am I afraid of being wrong?: I think it will make me disliked.
Why am I afraid of being disliked?: Hmm. I like being popular? I am afraid of destroying my ego. I depend on external approval to make me feel valuable.
That last question took me over an hour to answer. That’s the power of the 5-Why method. If you haven’t done it, honestly, stop reading now and take 5 minutes. It will be worth it.
It isn’t always 5-Why’s. Sometimes its 3, or 7, but you always know when you reach the source of the problem. It’s that question that challenges you right to the core. It’s often very difficult to answer. Answering mine made me very uncomfortable.
It’s like restoring an old piece of furniture. You have to peel back all the layers of paint that I’ve used to cover over the underlying issue. As you go deeper, it gets harder and harder to uncover the raw wood underneath. And when you get there, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Ah-ha! There it is.
So you’ve identified the root cause of your issue. Now what?
Come up with a solution that counteracts your specific problem. Going back to my problem: How do I find stop depending on external approval?
Hmmm, another tough one.
One thing I do know for sure: there is no silver-bullet. Fixing something so ingrained in your mental make up can never be fixed with an overnight solution. It takes little steps that add up - making a 1% improvement every single day.
I can hear you asking, “What are you going to do every day to stop seeking external approval?”
The best answer I can come up with is that there’s no reason to look for external approval, because in actual fact, no one cares about me - or you.
Sorry to burst your bubble.
We are all so inherently narcissistic and involved in our own worlds, we rarely pay meaningful attention to others.
So while I’m sitting in that meeting stressing about the bead of sweat on my brow and what a nervous wreck I look like - twiddling my pen around and incessantly - the person opposite me is probably so focused on trying to convince me of what he is trying to say that he doesn’t even notice.
Maybe she does notice. Chances are, she likely doesn’t care. Everyone sweats - so what.
Every time you find yourself getting nervous, or a little bit of doubt creeps into your mind, stop and take a moment.
Ask why you’re getting nervous and then remind yourself that whatever it is, you more than likely don’t have to worry about it right now.
As you continually do this, your mind will slowly start to come to the realisation that the fight-or-flight response is not always necessary. The little steps and improvements you make each day reinforce this.
Practice Being Confident Everyday
For those of us who are not naturally confident, it’s a skill that needs to be learnt and improved. And as with every other skill, you need to work at it to get better.
Here are a few tools I’ve used to help me be more confident:
Start with questions
As an introvert, it is sometimes easy to be mistaken for a pushover, because we choose to remain silent and not voice our opinions. One way to make sure people know you’re confident and engaged is to ask poignant question. Remember there’s no such thing as an incorrect question.
By asking valuable questions you make people think about something in a different way. And when you get asked a question that makes you question the way you’re thinking about something, it makes you consider someone else’s point of view.
Thoughtful questions are often more powerful than any statements. Use them to your advantage.
Ask for help
There is almost no employer in the modern workplace that would deny you resources to help you do your job effectively. There’s nothing wrong with saying to your boss, or superior, “I’m a bit uncomfortable running this meeting on my own because I don’t feel like I know the material required. Would you mind if you sat in with me so I know if I can’t answer anything, you’ll be around.”
You might think it seems like a weak move, but it also tells your boss you’re serious about the reputation of the company.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, as long as you don’t waste other people’s time and resources by doing it repeatedly without showing improvement.
Do it in a comfortable space
If you’re not comfortable doing any of these techniques around strangers or work colleagues then start small.
Start with close friends and family. Build up your confidence and then take it into more unfamiliar situations.
Don’t dwell in the ‘comfort-zone’ too long, though!
Hold eye contact
When you’re speaking with someone, maintain eye contact until they look away. Not only does it tell them you’re engaged, it also means you have something to concentrate on.
Maintain a powerful stance
Shy, introverted, people often have very sullen, closed-off body posture.
Look at all the most powerful people in the world. When they give speeches or interact with important people, they all have similar, strong, body posture.
To portray confidence, stand (or sit) up straight. Lengthen your spine, shoulders back, chest out. Yes, really.
Just by doing this, you’re sending your subconscious a message that you’re powerful and confident.
None of our early ancestors won any fights by curling up into a little ball. They had to make themselves look big, intimidating, and powerful.
You can always go slower. None of the most powerful speeches in the world were rushed. Nelson Mandela was a master at this.
Speak clearly and slowly and your message will naturally come across more eloquently, and hold more weight and authority.
Say no occasionally
When someone asks for something, just say, “No” or, “Unfortunately not”. Let it play out, and then give them your actual response, or stick with no if you mean it.
This works best with friends and family.
Saying no is another reminder to your subconscious that you’re in control. It seems juvenile, but knowing you have the ability to command your day to day outcomes is inherently powerful.
Remember why you got hired
The company you’re working for was looking for a particular set of skills to help it grow.
They chose you.
In an interview process, you were the rose amongst the thorns. Everyone else got weeded out until you were the one they selected - remember that.
What skills or capacity are you bringing to the table that your company wouldn’t have without you? Double down on those skills. Every time you sit at your desk and exercise them, remind yourself: This is why I’m here, this is why I’m needed.
Take stock of your progress and success
As your confidence grows and your brain develops these new pathways, take stock of your successes.
When you leave a meeting having reached a successful deal through a bit of negotiation, take note of that success. Pat yourself on the back. Gee, well done Simon, that was a real win.
Noting your progress gives you the motivation to keep growing.
So go on, be confident. Back yourself - few others will if you don’t.