how to help a staff member be more confident

Employees who lack confidence are less likely to take initiative, generate new ideas, or act decisively when it’s needed. So as a manager, it’s important to build up team members’ confidence. You don’t want to give people false bravado, of course, but you do want to give them confidence in the skills and instincts they have.

Here are four ways to do it.

1. Don’t assume that people know how good you think they are. Managers often assume that their best people know they’re top performers. And certainly some of them do. But a surprising number of people don’t actually realize what high esteem their managers hold them in. (This can be especially common among high-performing junior staff, who may not yet have enough experience in the work world to have a good sense of where their skills rate.) Additionally, people may not know the specifics of what you think they do well. So make a point of talking to people about their strengths, and what they excel at.

2. Show respect for their skills and their judgment. If you want employees to respect their own skills and instincts, you need to show that you respect those things too. That means that even when you think someone is off-base about something, your respect for their skills and their thinking should lead you to take their opinion seriously – and to show that you do, by saying things like, “That’s interesting – tell me more about why you see it that way” or “Here’s what led me to think X instead – what do you think about that?” You can also show respect for their thinking by soliciting their input on your own projects and decisions. Simply saying “I’ve been grappling with Y – what do you think?” can be a powerful confidence booster. (Plus, involving people in higher-level decision-making will help hone their judgment, which in time will lead to better decision-making ability, which will in turn build confidence.)

3. Give them stretch projects. Giving people assignments that stretch their skills can be one of the greatest ways to directly show people what they’re capable of. Make sure you make a point of explaining why you think they’ll be able to handle it, such as explaining that you’ve seen them do an outstanding job in a similar area. And crucially, since the point here is to build confidence, not destroy it, make sure that you’re coaching and supporting people doing stretch work more closely than you would with work they were more familiar with.

4. Approach mistakes the right way. When employees doubt themselves, even small mistakes can reinforce that they’re right not to be confident. Let people know that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as they’re learning from the experience and not making the same mistakes over and over. Model through your own behavior – both in regard to your own mistakes and those of others – that getting it wrong sometimes is a part of taking risks and an opportunity to figure out how to do better next time.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric

    Wait? I thought you were supposed to do trust falls and high-ropes courses to build confidence. :)

  2. VideogamePrincess

    Careful–Stretch projects can really undermine a worker’s confidence if it’s not explained that it’s a stretch project and it’s fine to be confused.

    1. fposte

      Though I think it’s better to fail by trying to stretch than to fail by not trying to stretch.

  3. Mimmy

    This is awesome – something I wish my manager at a previous job could read ;)

  4. Menacia

    What struck me about this article was the idea of a “stretch project” and I wonder if that is what my manager is doing (without telling me, of course). I’m the only one on my team to have gotten a huge project to work on (along with all my other work), and it’s really been tough because it’s put me out there in a way I’m usually not. While I am enjoying the possibilities of getting to the technical side of this project, I’m not really all that enthused by all the meetings and the administrative stuff (setting meetings, creating the RFP and related documents, engaging other teams for buy in). I feel like I am also not getting all the information I need to think about next steps in the process (because we have NO process), and so my manager is giving it to me piecemeal. When I told her I felt like I was being blindsided, she disagreed with me. Essentially my feelings are being discounted because “that’s not what I’m doing at all”…and there is no further conversation. What is ironic is that we now have meetings for Women in Management, which I am not, but was included in…and I wonder why. I don’t think my manager has ever really been supportive of me, and all I’ve achieved I’ve done though hard work, she came on board after I was already here. I just really hate not being asked if I would be interested in taking on *all* the tasks in a very large project, it’s been very stressful, and when I get a breather from the project stuff, I go back to my other full-time job. Sorry, feel very ranty today!

    1. stevenz

      Perfectly fine rant. One thing that strikes me: You feel like you’re being blindsided but she says you’re not. You didn’t say you *were* being blindsided, so she can’t disagree. Her proper response would have been to ask you what made you feel that way. Then, perhaps, she could address it. (From the facts you presented, you were clearly being blindsided.)

      I was in a similar situation once. I found out I was the “project manager” for a big project when I read the project summary that had been distributed to the staff. Never once consulted or informed in advance. That’s bad form. Then when I found out what was expected I was doubly miffed. Not only did I *not want* to do that kind of work, I had no experience at it. It was a miserable experience all the way around.

  5. Raia

    I was like yes, I need help with confidence issues! However, I actually do take initiative and generate new ideas at work. Acting decisively when needed is still a lacking area. I think my manager tried to build confidence in me today by kinda forcing me to make a minor policy-building decision (Hey Raia where should we put this record keeping paperwork?) but really I just hate making decisions and don’t understand why the policy wasn’t built yet.

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