Lack Of Confidence Is Making Someone On My Team Behave Immaturely – How Do I Tackle It Without Making It Worse?

'I want to encourage her to express herself more seriously, without hurting her confidence more'

Confidence at work

by Rebecca Holman |

In a world of in­spi­ra­tional memes and #girlboss In­sta­gram posts, it’s easy to for­get that we all get stuck at work, or feel like we can’t find a way for­ward at times. Sue Uner­man is the Chief Trans­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer at Me­di­a­Com and Kathryn Ja­cob OBE is the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive at Pearl and Dean. To­gether they wrote The Glass Wall: Suc­cess Strate­gies For Women At Work And Busi­nesses That Mean Busi­ness. Their new book Belonging, The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality At Work is out on now. Each week an­swer your work ques­tions with prag­matic, hon­est ad­vice that’s proven to work…

Q: I need to find a way to help someone in my team find her confidence. She’s started to come across as quite immature in the office, which isn’t true to how she is outside of work (we’re friends outside of work too). It’s a relatively new thing, and I think that this stems from a confidence issue of having two older people with more experience coming to the team. I want to encourage her to express herself a little bit more seriously but without hurting her confidence even more. Please help me to help her, I don’t know exactly how to do so.

Kathryn: Interesting isn’t it that so many women who feel confident in other respects feel that they have to play down their talents and play a submissive role at work. Firstly, you have to ask yourself where do we think this comes from? Is it a lack of confidence is it because she doesn’t feel welcome in the team or is it just that she finds the situation overwhelming and that acting young and helpless allows her to handle the situation?

Sue: It can happen that someone who perhaps has a lack of confidence at work might well try and get themselves in a situation where they never make a mistake because they don’t take any responsibility or risks or put themselves in the centre of responsibility. As a manager in the situation this can obviously be very frustrating. My sense would be that one way to tackle this is by example. I’m sure that anyway, you would always show the very best of behaviour in front of her, but perhaps make a point of signalling how you wish she would come across by how you do. I think also you may need to take her aside have a word with her about how she is coming across. You believe that she can do better, and you have her best interests at heart, but you want and need to show kindness of course. And it isn’t kindness in the longterm if you don’t help her shine. So try and make a window in any team meeting for her view, and mention to her in advance that you are planning to do this. She might be struggling to get her own voice heard and this chance for a structured opportunity to express a view that she has had time to prepare could be exactly what she needs.

Kathryn: One of the things that I find useful in dealing with people who lack confidence but he need to grow is to give them “a praise sandwich”. So my attitude is to say to someone that presentation you just gave or that piece of work you just handed in was great but it would be even better if they added x or y. You do need to find a way to make the people you coach more capable, to give them more confidence, to live their true self so they become even better. Allow them to feel that they’ve done great work so you’re not undermining their confidence but it show them the path to growth. This could be delivered daily, or weekly or sporadically. You might observe behaviours and then give a weekly feedback but that’s also accompanied by maybe some written notes or just a little note afterwards that says I love this but remember next time you need to highlight x or y.

Sue: The other thing that I would say is that you might want to get her a conversation with someone outside the organisation. As you’re her boss she might take it very hard hearing this critique from you but what if you arrange a mentoring session with someone else that you know in the industry? I have found that very often when you hear it from someone that you don’t know as well that it can actually land better. I once heard something that inspired me in coming out of my comfort zone at a wonderful RADA students’ conversation that Kathryn invited me (she is on the development board of RADA) to where one second year student said that her tutor had been encouraging her to be more flexible in her acting style, and that this didn’t mean not being true to herself. Her tutor said to her: “your house has many rooms; your personality has many doors; you are only opening one or two of them at the moment there are a dozen more. Try out some more of the. You might like what you find”. We all spend a long time at work. You need to be able to be your very best self and do your very best work and playing yourself down and not being true to the talent that you have in the end will only be detrimental.

Kathryn: Ultimately your role as a manager is of course to get the best out of your team and to bring out their very best potential. I hope that some of the ideas that we’ve suggested help.

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