Confidence can be a tool in the quest for excellence, whether building a successful career, relationships or realising other goals. Being able to be certain of your ability to effectively execute tasks, communicate ideas and to match up to your own expectations in any environment, would allow you to shift your energy and focus to the real important things, instead of depleting energy because of self-doubt or fear.
Confidence should not be equated with control, coercion, bullying, manipulation or any other form of persuasion via forceful means or placing someone under duress!
Communicating with confidence is an important theme in career growth and success. Achieving an appropriate level of comfort with others, in one to one, small or large meetings or gatherings requires an inner sense of calm and focus. Those who have achieved this have an advantage over their peers in many situations.
Many people experience feelings that range from mild discomfort to intense fear of public speaking, whether addressing a small meeting or a large gathering and even holding their own in a meeting with a supervisor or manager. Even those individuals who are experts in their chosen field may find seniority intimidating – no matter whether the manager is less knowledgeable given an expert topic under discussion.
Familiar descriptions range from feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, anxiety, fear, dread and even total emotional and mental paralysis. Severe anxiety is often accompanied by symptoms on a physical level – headaches, anxiety attacks and digestive problems. Reactions often result in energy depletion – a massive level of energy may be expended in the attempt to manage these situations through sheer force of will; or it is expended in the anticipation of impending disaster.
Some people would go to extreme lengths to avoid any situation that requires “public” performance – and when it cannot be avoided, may become physically ill, thus preventing them from having to perform.
Performance anxiety is a very common experience; mild anxiety can be positive in the sense that it encourages preparation and keeps a person energized and focused, both before and during a presentation, leading a group of people in a discussion or having a meeting with a manager.
Relinquishing your Control
Unfortunately there are people that will deliberately undermine others’ confidence in their work, their communication skills and their performance in general. It becomes a means to exercise control and even to compensate for their own feelings of inadequacy, usually hidden behind a mask of arrogance or bullying. The workplace can be as dangerous a place as the school yard when it comes to bullying – the methods may differ and may be more subtle, but the effects are still disastrous when it comes to self doubt, anxiety and fear.
When the anxiety or fear is of a debilitating nature, it is an obstacle in career advancement and growth: building a presence in an organization as a thought leader or expert or a candidate for a management or leadership role requires you to be able to express your thoughts in a clear, concise and intelligible manner.
Often these intense forms of anxiety and fear develop from experiences which, over time, grow larger and more intimidating. People seldom re-experience positive events in the manner that they relive negative ones: emotional ties to the event or experience grow stronger every time it is recalled, so that the associations actually intensify and are internalized to form part of their belief system. It is a form of self conditioning – vividly recalling and reliving the event as if you are again present in that moment leads to describing events that may initially have been experienced as “difficult” as “traumatic”.
In general it more difficult to get a person to relive a pleasant event as vividly, with the same level of clarity and detail and with a similar level of the emotional intensity that is employed to relive unpleasant ones, without some coaching.
Changing the Pattern
There are specific techniques that you can apply to reverse this pattern. The first step (and key) to overcoming performance anxiety is to break the associations mentally.
During recall deliberately step back from the unpleasant experience on a thought level. When recalling an enjoyable memory step closer to this pleasant experience, as if you are re-experiencing it in the moment. Imagination in recall is a powerful tool in exercising control over emotions. Intensifying a successful experience or memory through vivid mental and sensory recall allows new pattern formation – mentally and emotionally. This supports future expectations of effective performance and leads to achieving better results.
By mentally stepping back or moving yourself out of the picture when recalling the more distasteful, unpleasant or even excruciating events you strip them of some or even much of their power.
There are situations where fear is so overwhelming that some form of desensitization is needed. In this case even the thought of such a situation is too threatening (in the coaching situation methods other than described above is used for desensitization and new pattern formation).
Shifting your Focus
Shifting the focus from yourself to others is also beneficial. Only concentrating on your own feelings of inadequacy, anxiety or fear robs you of the opportunity to truly engage with others. As in everything, taking consistent small steps eventually lead to bigger gains: practicing this approach in a one to one situation first is easier than using it in a group context (other skills also need to be transferred to apply this successfully in a group).
Concentrate on what the other person is saying. Ensure you understand their point of view. Learning to recognize the micro signs of disengagement and disagreement is a skill that takes time to develop. Many people deliberately avoid pronounced gestures and expressions – hiding their true emotions behind a mask of friendly engagement. Only by watching a person carefully, not making assumptions, noticing these signs and making note of the outcome of discussions and decisions can you develop a true “feeling” for the nature of the response pattern – whether the person’s thoughts and ideas are truly synchronized with yours, whether he is really interested in your contribution or expertise and whether he is only “pretending” to listen.
This has many benefits: shifting your focus to the other person prevents you from obsessing over your own performance. Being more relaxed fosters clarity of mind. Clear thinking allows you to be better prepared to answer or respond in the appropriate manner. You will also develop better listening skills which fosters trust relationships.
Overcoming Coercion: Reserve rather than Revolt
Furthermore, if you have to deal with a bully – self control is of the essence. The moment you lapse into an emotional reaction, such as displaying fear, anger or doubt, that person has gained full control over you. By remaining in control of your own emotions, you deprive him of the power he perceives to be able to exert over you.
Communication - more than just using Words
Remember that only a small percentage of effective communication is the actual words you use – your audience of one or many will probably not be consciously aware of this fact, but will still interpret a large part of your communication based on your posture, gestures, tonality and facial expressions. Taking small steps, building on each successful experience and overcoming each obstacle as it presents itself forms part of the learning process. It increases the level of confidence you will experience and display little by little until you reach a stage where you will be able to place the fear and anxiety where it belongs – fully behind you.