A few months ago I attended the opening night of the Asia House Literature Festival in London featuring Great British Bake Off winner 2015 Nadiya Hussain in conversation with renowned journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
Fans of the BBC TV hit programme may have seen the emotional final scenes of the show when Nadiya’s win was announced.
“I am never going to say I can’t do it”, she said, and then: “I am never going to say maybe. I am never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”
In the conversation session Nadiya elaborated further. She told the audience how an acute lack of confidence had limited things she did and that entering the TV baking show was a first small step towards changing her life. Nadiya explained circumstances that many mothers with young children experience – that her world had become very small in recent years and how she rarely went out anywhere unless accompanied by her family. Managing the demands of young children can be limiting for some, especially for stay at home mums, and it can be hard to build confidence again.
I have witnessed many women in their middle age with similar feelings of diminishing confidence. Children growing up and leaving home, lack of or a stagnant career, feeling that the passing of years is accelerating alongside the effects of ageing can all have a negative effect on women, their confidence and their well-being.
The experience of working with and coaching women in business environments has shown me that making small changes in behaviour can help to build confidence. Anyone, in business or not, can benefit from an understanding of how our behaviour impacts on others. And it’s equally important to appreciate how our behaviour affects the perception of our abilities. Women in particular can be affected by limiting behaviours – attitudes and actions of our own making that hold us back.
If this is a situation that sounds familiar, try some strategies and tips to change limiting behaviours to help boost your confidence at work and in social situations:
Think about language. How many times do you apologise or justify yourself before you say something or email someone. How many times do you use “just” or “sorry” without needing to…
“I just wanted to ask you….”
“Can I just have moment of your time? “
“Sorry, but I need to make an appointment to …”
Get out of the habit of asking for permission in this way. Say or write without justification for your demands or actions. This is not about ignoring common courtesies - which are always important - it’s ensuring that you position yourself in a confident manner. People will respect you more and you will get better results at every turn.
Delaying personal investment At the risk of quoting a well-known cosmetics company, it’s worrying to see women delay investment in themselves, in their well-being, in their personal development. I see women feeling guilty, anxious and even shame about spending time, money and energy into their own needs, even though we all know you really are “worth it”. We are very good at putting others first, perhaps as a result of a mothering instinct. Successful people, both men and women, spend time, effort and money on their own progress and growth because they know without a doubt that it will pay off – for themselves and for others around them, whether it’s for the benefit of a family or for the wider team in a work situation.
Negative thinking We all know women whose default position is “I am not good enough” or “I couldn’t do that”. Women can underestimate their abilities and are often risk adverse which prevents them from applying for jobs, standing up for themselves and even interjecting in meetings. You can build confidence by positive thinking, by improving your communication skills and by understanding what’s holding you back. The first step in changing behaviour by understanding what’s going on around you and the impact you have on others.
This blogpost first appeared on themuttonclub.com in July 2016