Take responsibility to make yourself heard
As a leadership development trainer and coach, I often hear my clients talk about how hard it is when others don’t listen to them. It is very rare that I hear people say, “I could really do more to make sure I get heard.” Communication is a two-way street and no matter how eloquent or loud you are, you have to make sure you match your message, tone, and volume to the situation at hand. Wait for the right moment to speak, until people have stopped talking. (Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often this gets forgotten!) Do what it takes to get peoples’ attention before you pour your heart out. Raise your hand, say the listener’s name, declare “I have an idea.” before you begin to share it… these are just a few ways to gain the podium before you talk.
The easier you make it for others to listen to you, the more confident you will feel sharing your ideas.
Check your premises
Are you doubting yourself based on fact or based on assumption? If I assume I am going to face a critical audience, I may take a comment such as “No, no. That idea will never work.” as a personal attack. Then I would quickly react. With a ruffled brow in a defensive tone, I would give a full explanation of why my idea is important. That would be followed by a full explanation of why the idea wouldn’t work and back and forth until someone backs down and we are both feeling drained and annoyed. If I won the argument my self-esteem is temporarily boosted, if not, I take a hit.
If I assume I am going to face a supportive audience, the very same comment will make me pause, and ask “What’s your concern?” with genuine curiosity and openness. I may discover that there is a valid concern that we can address together and both feel committed to whatever solution we find. Because my self-esteem is derived from my beliefs about myself and not from external sources of approval, this kind of exchange would not feel like an emotional roller coaster. I can feel proud of myself knowing that assuming good intent about the other person helped enhance collaboration.
It doesn’t matter what the reality is, it is my belief about the situation that shapes my responses and my feelings. Depending on our beliefs about them, these situations can either be reasons to feel deficient and defensive or they can be an opportunity to learn and build confidence further.
Be open to understand others’ reasoning, rather than making assumptions.
Spread out physically
Researchers from Harvard and UC-Berkeley (Cuddy, Carney and Yap) have shown that when we hold our bodies in tall, open stances, our physiology actually sends signals to our brain which make us feel more confident.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Back in caveman times, if we stand in a big highly visible way, we could be a lot more exposed to physical threats. So if we stand that way, apparently we are not scared of attack. (Picture the opposite, what would you do if you had to dodge a bullet? You’d make yourself small!) Therefore, if you are holding your body in a way that shows you are not worried about physical threats, your brain responds by sending hormones into your system that make you calmer, more willing to take risks, and more confident. You can “trick” your brain into supporting your confidence.
If you stand tall and powerfully, your brain will give the signal to release more testosterone and less cortisol, making you feel more confident.
Take a deep breath
We have all been there…when our nerves set in, whether it be stage fright, an important meeting or an emotionally uncomfortable conversation, we have all felt our hearts race, our palms sweat and our face flush. There is a reason for that. Your brain thinks you are under threat.
The brain does not distinguish between social threats and physical threats, so it prepares the body to fight or flee in either case. The only weapon we have against this is our own metabolism. It takes time for our bodies to regulate all those hormones that cause us to feel the symptoms described above and put them back to normal levels.
The one method we have to accelerate that process is to BREATHE! But don’t only use the power of a few deep breaths once you are already triggered. Learn to breathe fully and regularly every time you are speaking. Learn to be comfortable with a few seconds of silence when you are talking to groups so that you can take a full breath in between paragraphs. We have all heard about the benefits of mental focus gained in meditation, why not bring a little of this into every moment of your day by learning to always breathe fully and deeply?