my manager said I need more confidence — what does that mean?

I’m off today, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2018.

A reader writes:

I just had my probation review for my new job and it went well! They seem pretty happy with me and the work I’m doing. Most of the feedback was stuff I agreed with and wanted to improve on anyway, so that was really great.

But there was one thing which they kept bringing up as a consistent issue that I have no idea how to tackle. Throughout my probation, my manager brought up that I need to have “more confidence in my abilities and knowledge.”

I have no idea what this is supposed to even mean. Like, don’t get me wrong, I try to show my skills and knowledge in my field to anyone who needs it or shows some interest but how do I “get more confidence”? My mind automatically jumps to strutting around the office as The Authority on All Things Teapot but that doesn’t feel right at all.

I guess what I’m asking is what do managers mean when they say you need to improve confidence in a certain field, and most importantly, how do I do that?

The specifics will vary depending on you and your particular circumstances, but here are some of things that “have more confidence” commonly means:

* You’re asking your manager or other people for input or approval when she wants you to go ahead and make the decision on your own (and she trusts you do that and get it right — or she trusts that even if you get it wrong, it won’t be a big deal).

* You’re double-checking things with her that she knows you know.

* You immediately defer to other people’s opinions even when you have thoughts or expertise of your own to offer.

* You’re speaking or writing in a tentative way. For example, you often say things like, “I’m not sure but maybe it’s X” or “This might not be the right approach, but…” or otherwise shy away from owning your ideas.

* You use a lot of words to make your point, and it’s coming across as if you think you always have to defend your ideas or explain your rationale even when you don’t — as if you don’t trust the ideas themselves to stand on their own.

* You get flustered when you don’t know an answer right away, instead of saying something like, “I’m not sure. Let me find out/think about it and get back to you.”

* Your speaking manner is coming across as nervous or uncertain — which could be anything from ending sentences with question marks when they should be declarations to rushing to fill silence instead of being comfortable with pauses.

The solution depends on exactly which of these is happening, but in general it’s about things like:

* Believe your manager if she tells you that she wants you to figure something out / be the decider / use your own judgment.

* Don’t seek reassurance from your manager or others that you’re doing something the right way, when at some level you know you’ve been over it in the past. (That doesn’t mean that you should never seek guidance, of course! Many times seeking guidance is the right thing to do. This is about if you’re doing it on the same items repeatedly, or if your boss has suggested you’re doing it too often.)

* Speak up when you have ideas or opinions, even if someone else in the discussion thinks differently. (You need to use judgment on this, of course, and factor in time/place/roles/seniority/standing. But if it’s a topic that you work with a lot of or affects you or if you’ve specifically been asked to weigh in, you have standing to speak up.)

* If you feel uncertain on exactly what decision-making authority you have, get clear about that by talking to your manager about it — so that you’re not guessing and can act with more confidence that you have the standing to take certain actions/make certain decisions on your own.

* Pay attention to what you’re conveying with your language and tone of voice. Don’t be afraid of making declarative statements, and don’t end sentences with a question mark unless they’re truly questions. Try to get rid of fillers that undermine your point like “I’m not sure but…” and “this might not be the right approach but…” (It’s okay to use these sometimes, when you truly mean it! But don’t use them if you’re just doing it out of habit or comfort.)

And if none of this resonates or feels quite like what you think your manager would be talking about, it’s okay to ask her! Whenever you get feedback and you’re not quite clear on the meaning, it’s always better to ask than to try to guess. You can say something like, “You’ve mentioned that you’d like me to have more confidence in my abilities and I’m interpreting that as meaning that you want me to make more decisions without checking with you, but I want to make sure I’m getting that right.” (This one is a little tricky in that you don’t want asking the question to reinforce her worry that you need more confidence — and if the issue is that she wants you to stop double-checking things with her, it might feel a little weird to then double-check this with her. But you do need to make sure you understand the feedback. And as long as you use that kind of language — “I’m interpreting it as X” — it should be fine. Hell, you could add, “I do see the irony in asking you this.”)

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Ellis Bell*

    Managers who give “be more confident” as feedback, please take your feedback points from this more specific list instead! Also, if your employee is showing good judgement and doesn’t need to check in as much any more: tell them that! That is definitely feedback which will make them feel more confident!

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1. Any feedback you give an employee needs to be specific and actionable. “Be more confident” is right up there with “be more professional” in terms of vagueness.

      1. Biff*

        Ugh. Why do I have a feeling this sort of advice is poured out onto women more often, and it’s one of those things that there’s no middle ground between “be more confident” and “stop emasculating your coworkers/abrasive/cocky?”

        Confidence isn’t a virtue on its own, either. You can confidentially say “I’m not too drunk to drive.” You can confidentially hike right off a cliff. You can radiate confidence as you screw up.

        Far better feedback would be “I’ve seen you have good ideas, but when they are scrutinized or questioned, you tend not to advocate for them. Scrutiny and questions are how we evaluate an idea for implementation, not how we shoot them down around here. If you think they are good, advocate for them, no one will fault you for it.”

        1. BobSam*

          YES. But I think it’s great her manager is telling her to have more. So often a woman speaks up once and is labeled “difficult”. And it’s over.

          1. lemon*

            Well, as soon as you start having confidence, that’s when you become difficult. I’ve been told my whole life to speak up more and have confidence. I finally started speaking up, and my newest manager called me “aggressive” because he was trying to bait me into an argument (he’s had a history of doing this with me over the past year) and instead of letting him, I calmly said, “I think we need to talk about this another time,”and left the conference room when he kept pushing.

            Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        2. Generic Name*

          Yuuup. I was told at my annual review one year to “be more confident”. Less than a year later, my manager told me I came across as “strident”. I’ve gotten a promotion and nothing but kudos since she left.

        3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          As a woman in IT, I’ve gotten the “you don’t seem confident” feedback because of the degree of precision I use in my statements — where a male colleague might say, “The problem is X,” I will say, “I think the problem is X.” The man and I have the same degree of confidence in the answer, but I don’t want to make a declarative statement about something I believe to be true but don’t KNOW to be true.

          I’m resistant to “fixing” this by making my statements less accurate, but I did expand the confidence interval (as it were) for making a declarative statement a little. Sometimes it also helps to justify it (not a lot, just a little): “I think the problem is X because Y.”

          For what it’s worth, I’ve gotten this feedback less as I’ve progressed in my career.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            Oh! The other change I made is that rather than telling people the expected state (“It should be fixed now” or “I think it’s fixed now.”) I instead tell them what I did and ask them to tell me if it’s still broken (“I made change Z, please let me know if you’re still seeing issues.”) This is still precise, and is also better if anyone needs to follow what I did for later reference.

          2. Cheshire Cat*

            Using “I think…” comes across as more tentative, though. You may be confident, but that’s not what your colleague is going to hear.

            Saying “It sounds like the problem is X” or “It’s probably X” comes across as more confident, without committing yourself to a wrong answer if it turns out to be Y.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I remember once, in a review, being told that when they asked for feedback around the organization said that two people said I came across as unprofessional. When I asked what specifically, since the two people also said I was hard worker and had a good future, the response was “they couldn’t put their finger on it”. Which is…UGH. Both were male, I am female, FWIW.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I also think it’s a better opportunity for managers to call out right in the moment: “You had everything right here, so in the future you don’t need to come to me for approval on this kind of thing, just be sure to take X and Y into account.” Or, “I’m not sure why you’re asking me this kind of question, I want you to use your own judgement on issues like Z and I’ll support you in whatever you decide.” My boss did the latter for me once and it was a lot more helpful than a broad statement during a review.

  2. No_woman_an_island*

    I feel more justified in my position on Upspeak after Allison’s response. I caught a lot of flak in a post a couple years back that discussed it.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I’m actually surprised she called that out a few times here. I thought it was kind of accepted that younger people and women tend to talk this way and it’s not that cool to focus on “fixing” it.

      1. cabbagepants*

        This could be one of those things where it shouldn’t matter, but it does, so it can still be valuable feedback.

      2. LawBee*

        Men also often talk this way but women/girls get judged for it.

        Also, and here is my unpopular opinion, it can be pretty annoying to listen to when it’s someone who ends every sentence with a question mark. Male or female.

        I’m on team Check the Upspeak because imo it’s more of a habit, akin to saying “like” all the time. Not exactly objectionable but definitely makes the speaker seem immature in a professional setting.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Ultimately, it’s just not a great way to communicate because it can be interpreted as being questioning or unsure, when it isn’t meant to be.

          1. eeeek*

            OOOF: voicemail messages that say, “Hello???? This is Desdemona Frankenpants??? President of Whizzywhats Corporation???? Leavamessage and I’llgetbacktoyooooo????”
            Seriously. A person should be able to state their OWN NAME and their OWN TITLE with confidence and clarity, and without sounding like they’re questioning either.
            They may be knowledgeable and competent and expert and strong…but that recording makes them sound like they doubt everything about their identity and work.
            This is my peeve. It has its own bed, monogrammed collar, and some weeks I feel like I walk it daily. Seriously, folks: say your name like you own it.

            1. J*

              If you work with the public and have been threatened by them as much as I have in past jobs, you will do anything to play the part of someone non-threatening. I have spent my whole life dumbing myself down for classmates, bosses and the public. I am confident in my abilities and in my personal life that’s pretty obvious. But I know the danger that others present when they feel threatened or faced with a confident woman and I have a role to play in pretending I’m just a grunt sometimes. Every time I forget my place, I’ve had consequences that sometimes have even threatened my livelihood. If you have a problem with it, that’s for you to work on.

          2. Zeus*

            I hadn’t heard of it before this thread, hit after looking it up I have to laugh because it’s something that’s ingrained in my country’s vernacular. Some people don’t like it or find it unprofessional but most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it, and/or don’t have a problem with it.

            It’s interesting to see this discussion from an outside perspective though.

  3. Oxford Common Sense*

    I once had a direct report who I felt was lacking in confidence. She had good instincts but rarely put her ideas forth. I think she was on her second job out of college.

    To begin with, I asked her that instead of asking me how to solve problems, she bring the problems to my attention and tell me how she thought we should solve them. We quickly established that she knew more than she thought she did, and she began to trust herself and her ideas more. We worked together for many years after that and she now has a senior job in a closely-related field.

    1. No_woman_an_island*

      Excellent management. And bonus, it’s a skill she can use for an answer in interviews (as I have) about how she handles conflict or problems that arise.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      This approach could even work for the situation that LW describes.

      They’ve gotten feedback about being (or appearing) more confident. LW could consider how they’ve behaved in certain situations, observe themselves to be more aware of how they tend to present themselves in their role. Based on that and norms in the company, how other people act, come up with 1-3 things that are possibly what the manager is picking up on. Come up with changes actions LW could put in place or work towards that would address those issues.

      Then with those “problems” and “solutions” in hand, then meet with manager and say something like “Based on the feedback you gave me about xyz, I’ve considered a couple different areas where this may be happening, and what I could do to improve in those areas. Will improvement in these areas address it?”

      a) shows LW is taking initiative to follow up on manager’s comments instead of a more passive “I don’t understand what you mean, please explain”
      b) gives manager something to react to in a collaborative dialogue vs manager having to think up examples… either “yes, that’s it” or “you’re on the right track, but I was thinking more of your actions in cross departmental meetings” (or making independent decisions on xyx, or whatever) and
      c) gives LW opportunity to say where she might need guidance and support while building needed skills. For example, things like clearer guidance on things LW has autonomy to just handle vs things LW can just decide but cc or heads-up manager as an FYI vs things manager wants to be looped in on to be part of the decision. Or if manager wants LW to speak more confidently in group discussions, maybe LW does better in scheduled meetings where they know their input will be wanted, vs impromptu discussions that LW gets pulled into with no chance to collect their thoughts.

      It’s basically a 1-2-3 of taking initiative and showing LW wants to improve, making it easy for manager to provide clarity on the issue and opening a collaborative dialogue on what next steps LW will take and how manager can support that effort.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is the approach we try to instill once someone’s learned the basics (especially since it’s impossible to have a specific process for everything we do – there is a framework, but you have to apply knowledge/judgment within the framework). Use what you know and prior examples to take a swing at it and bring questions/problems to me.

      We try to be specific, too, about what they’re empowered to do independently because our work steps up in difficulty – “You’ve mastered llama reports, so I don’t need to see those before you send them out. When you get to camels, take a swing at it and then I’ll review with you before it is sent to the customer.”

      Typically, when I see the “lack of confidence” feedback, it’s that someone is either using an excessive amount of management time or holding up the works looking for full QC/validation of work product they’ve mastered.

  4. Bee*

    Generational note that may also be relevant:

    Watch out for uptalk/upspeak/high rising terminal intonation where sentences end with a higher inflection, implying a question. It’s really normal with millennials and younger and is typically a way to indirectly make sure people are still on board with what we’re saying, but I’ve noticed older generations often interpret it as a sign that we lack confidence and seem to be questioning ourselves and what we say.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s not generational anymore. I’m GenX and I’ve been hearing that ever since valley girls were around. “Like, oh my GAWD!”

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        Right, it may not be generational, but I would argue that at least an aspect of it is developmental. That is to say, not so many Gen-Xers held onto this speech pattern now into their late 40s and 50s. At least not in business settings.

    2. SpecialSpecialist*

      It’s almost like an engagement tool rather than a show of lack of confidence. Like, bringing others at the table into the conversation by phrasing things like a question.

    3. cosmicgorilla*

      Phrasing like “I kind of” or “I sort of” also hits me as lacking in confidence, even if it’s not the speaker’s intent.

      “I sort of redesigned the website…”

      Did you redesign it or not?

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      Weirdly, the one person I know personally who I’ve noticed as doing a lot of uptalk is my grandboss–someone who is definitely confident and certain of herself. I think she does it as a (conscious or unconscious) way of doing just what you say: make sure people are following what she’s saying. Coming from her, it comes across more as condescending than as insecure. I find she’s MUCH more likely to do it in a meeting where lower-level individual contributors are present than one with just managers. It’s funny how the same verbal tic can come across in such different ways, depending on someone’s place in a hierarchy.

    5. Newly minted higher ed*

      I’ve been hearing more men using it in the last 5 years, like Antony Blinken as the most recent example I can think of. I think while there is a perception that leads to problematic assumptions, it’s probably a change spreading from below that will continue to annoy or be stigmatized, even by people who do it.

      I know some of the English language assessment I do, there is judgment happening on uptalk because ‘who knows if they’re ending the sentence.’ (and yes, they structure it as a question but using falling intonation and use uptalk themselves). I think it’s fine, just a linguistic variation that linguists are happily starting to measure because language changes and variation are pretty cool.

    6. Global Cat Herder*

      I work on a global virtual team. Non-native English speakers struggle a LOT with uptalk. “It sounds like they’re asking a question, but they haven’t asked a question, what am I missing?”

  5. SpecialSpecialist*

    This is great and getting added to my management stuff bookmarks! I have a direct report with whom I’ve had to have the confidence talk in the past. They’ve gained a good deal of confidence since then.

  6. AnonyLlama*

    That depends on the role. Mid to senior leadership (and probably sales) positions should be highly skilled in self-reflection and organizational dynamics to effectively interpret “be more confident”. Instead of specifics though, I’d be coaching them on how confidence plays into negotiations with other leaders and why we need to project the right tone early and not undermine our own authority, etc. But I wouldn’t expect to have to coach a Director on what “be more confident” means, specifically.

    1. AnonyLlama*

      nesting error. Was intended as a reply to Ellis Bell’s comment that leaders shouldn’t give general feedback like “be more confident”.

  7. HonorBox*

    I had a direct report who asked for a review before I left the organization for another role with a different company. She was definitely on the “less confident” side of things at times, just because she wasn’t as seasoned as others in the organization and in our industry. I knew she knew her stuff and told her that. I pointed out that she often came to me to discuss a decision or even an email before making it/sending it. And while I knew that she knew her stuff, someone new might not, and asking them for the verification that she was asking me for might come across as her not actually being suited for the role. She took it very well and ultimately took a role with a new organization that allowed her to continue her professional growth and development as my former organization did some reshuffling.

  8. CLC*

    They usually mean you have to *act* more confident. It’s horrible feedback though because as the reply suggests, it’s very much not specific. I wish I had known when I was younger to ask what, specifically, was meant.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I hated that stage of my career, where people kept telling me to act confident when I wasn’t or “fake it till you make it” when I didn’t know what I was doing. It would have been more helpful of people to let me shadow them so I actually knew what I was doing!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I had one manager and grand-manager who would 1-2 me on this issue.

        Be more confident, have courage that you know what you’re talking about was all well and good … until I’d be in a meeting with them and VP would pick apart everything I said, interrupting me as I was responding whatever challenge he was raising. I knew my stuff and could drill down on the details, or summarize key points, but I couldn’t do that well when he was talking over me.

        He relished his over-authoritative “question and undermine the messenger” style, but to me as a junior manager it came across as closed minded bullying or an exercise in seeing if I could hold my own when thrown in with sharks. I could if I needed to, but it made me realize that I didn’t want to work in an environment where I needed to in every single conversation just because. I’m much more effective in more genuinely collaborative environments with less posturing for the sake of posturing or testing with fire just because.

  9. B*tch in the Corner of the Poster*

    Perfect timing when I’ve had the same feedback recently. Anyone have any good book recommendations? I’ve been working through Dare to Lead, but looking for more specific to confidence at a mid-career level.

  10. ThatGirl*

    Kind of funny to me, because I have been getting a lot of compliments/feedback lately that I’m very confident. And … I guess I am? It’s not something I’m very conscious of. But somewhere along the way I started trusting myself and my own knowledge and abilities more. I also try not to correct people unless I’m pretty sure of myself already, and cite my sources when needed. (For instance “well, I wasn’t sure about that myself, but I just looked at X and it says Y, so I think Y is right.”)

    What else… I dunno, I think in general just speaking with confidence/authority when you know you’re right helps.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward strategy in a way – acting confident and self assured does leave you open to looking like a bit of an a*s if you’re wrong. Some people can handle that blowback, others would melt into the floor. Unfortunately, there’s some demographic factors that tend to play into it! Being comfortable making mistakes is easier for some people than others, and some people also get more support when it happens.

      1. ThatGirl*

        For sure. And I think knowing how to be wrong and take correction graciously is definitely part of confidence too.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          That’s the key. Confidence in that you’re so comfortable with where you’re at that it’s not threatening to you to have someone point out an error or how something could be done better. It’s a growth, learning mindset instead of one trying to maintain superiority.

          And in a leadership role, it’s key, because ideally you want the strengths and expertise of *every* member of team to be applied to whatever you’re working on. Not simply everyone relying on you as top dog to know everything and direct everything.

          (Interpersonally, it can be tough to pull off, especially if you’ve got a know-it-all, one upper or competitive person in your midst)

          1. Sloanicota*

            Or, especially if you’re facing prejudice already, and any misstep will be used to prove that you “don’t belong.” In such cases, it may seem wiser to hedge your responses more or to be clear on what you don’t know versus taking your best guess. But, you may also get knocked for a lack of consequence as a result. It’s a delicate balance.

            1. A person*

              It is such a weird balance! I currently have a coworker that is super confident… and she really shouldn’t be. She is confidently wrong probably 95% of the time.

              Shocker… she comes off as both arrogant and dumb to almost everyone she works with which is a great combination.

              1. Cannibal Queen*

                Yes, I’ve met so many people like this in my career I’ve become automatically suspicious of anyone who projects ‘confidence’.

    2. Ranon*

      There’s so much in how you present yourself that reads as confidence- I can get myself in trouble because I’m comfortable confidently stating I don’t know something and so many people read that as knowing the thing I’ve told them I don’t know just because I’m really confident I don’t know it!

  11. BellyButton*

    This would be a good one for an update. I wonder if the OP figured out what they were doing that portrayed a lack of confidence and if they were able to overcome it.

  12. Cathie from Canada*

    The way I interpreted “confidence” for myself in a job was this way: that nine times out of ten, I was confident that I was making the same decision about an issue that my manager would have made. So then I only needed to ask them about that tenth time.
    Whenever I started a new job, or got a new manager, I knew I would likely feel this level of confidence in my decision-making judgements only maybe four times out of ten, or maybe even less. But I always felt I was making progress if, within a year, I had hit the “nine times out of ten” level.
    The way I improved my level was to talk to my manager about my decision processes, to observe their priorities and procedures whenever I could, and to consult with coworkers for their advice too.
    Only occasionally did I end up working for someone whose own judgement was so scattershot and variable that I couldn’t achieve a high level of confidence that I was interpreting their priorities correctly. But this was on them, not on me. (One advantage of working in an academic institution is that the upper management is constantly changing – you seldom get a department head or dean staying in that position for more than a few years.)

  13. Angstrom*

    If you’re not confident in making general statements like “X is better than Y”, one approach is to let the data speak for you: “The 2022 returns show X lasted 20% longer than Y”.
    Another is to be specific that you are talking about your own experience. Others may have different views but that doesn’t make yours wrong: “When I’ve worked with a customer, X worked better than Y because….”

  14. Lifelong student*

    Upspeak is the most common manifestation of lack of confidence. When I was teaching at the college level and students would respond to a question with upspeak, I would ask “Are you asking me or telling me?” It was my way of encouraging them to have confidence in their assertions.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      That does NOTHING to encourage confidence, it’s a bully tactic that just points out you don’t like their tone.
      That’s not teaching. That’s a power move.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It *can* be teaching. I’m at the high school level, not college, but I’ve found that I can say all kinds of things to students–so long as I’m smiling. A welcoming smile and a warm tone go a long way in interactions such as these.

  15. Onward*

    People harping on upspeak rubs me the wrong way a bit. It’s a common for women to use (along with vocal fry) and both catch a lot of flack, but I think the flack they catch often comes from a place of not liking the sound of women’s voices.

    Personally, I know I use upspeak a lot and it is to ensure (especially when I’m explaining something) that people are following what I’m saying.

    1. Liv*

      I agree, and I feel more comfortable with women who use upspeak and find it easier to follow what they’re saying. I’m sort of tired of women always having to self-police the way they talk. People can and will get used to it.

      1. cosmicgorilla*

        Disliking upspeak does not automatically mean disliking the way women speak. I don’t dislike the way women speak (and I am a woman). I do dislike upspeak.

        It’s one thing to use it occasionally to assess agreement and/or understanding. You can also assess agreement by asking ok? with an upspeak tone. You don’t need to continually pitch your sentence upWARDS all the TIME as some do. This is what folks get up in arms about. Because upspeak is associated with asking for confirmation, overuse of upspeak will be associated with a lack of confidence.

        1. eeeek*

          Exactly. When I’m doing a presentation, or teaching, and checking in with students as to whether they’re following along…upspeak makes sense in the social situation. Yanno? See? Do you follow? Okay?

          But when I’m doing a presentation to state clearly to an audience a topic where I am the authority, where I am informing people about some policy or issuing a decision in a question or issue where my word is the word, or where I’m conveying the word from levels above…well. No question marks in my voice. If I’m inviting questions or opposition, I’ll do so…with words, not upspeak. I’m not asking my audience’s permission to be an expert, or to have the authority I have…because I have it.

          Judicious use of intonation makes sense for effective communication, in my view.

        2. Onward*

          I want to kindly push back on the idea that being a woman is support for the statement “I don’t dislike the way women speak”, since internalized misogyny is definitely a thing. As we’ve seen even on this blog, women can often be harder on other women than men are.

          I just generally do not like people policing the way other people talk. There is a lot of ingrained sexism/racism/etc. that often comes into assumptions of people based on how they speak, and I think people need to be cognizant of that before making a judgment.

      2. Anthony-mouse*

        And I find it a lot more difficult to follow. I recently listened to an academic paper given by a man applying to be a professor who constantly used upspeak and I found it almost impossible to work out what was his research and findings that he was certain of what was speculations he was proposing. It’s not a universal thing that everyone who struggle with it is being misogynistic. If I was struggling with it as a native English speaker, how would our students who are non-native speakers have coped with him as a lecturer?

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I don’t know. On the one hand, I agree on not policing how people talk, and speech patterns do change with time. On the other, I’m not a native English speaker. Upspeak is not a thing in my native language (well, there may be some American influence coming over, but it’s not a common thing). I do find upspeak harder to follow, and a bit confusing, because it constantly triggers a need to respond by sounding like a question.

  16. Call Me Wheels*

    I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about ‘upspeak’ already from these comments! Never heard of it before but I definitely do it. Looks like I’ll need to work on that.

  17. Luca*

    Short version: I had a boss say that I double-checked things with him more often than he felt I needed to.

    I didn’t lack confidence in myself. I lacked confidence in him to tell me things I needed to know, when I needed to know them. Particularly if something changed along the way, that would change my course of action.

    We never truly meshed the whole time we worked together. I wasn’t disappointed when he left our firm.

    1. Language Lover*

      I’m sort of the same way with my current boss. They’ll tell me to do something but they already have a vision for how they want it done and if my solution is different, it gets changed to their vision in the end. They’re not terrible but I feel like I have less autonomy and confidence as a result.

  18. Red Wheel Barrow*

    I think it’s true that judgmental assumptions about upspeak are sometimes incorrect and inflected by sexism and ageism. But it’s still useful for people who speak this way to know about these assumptions and decide if they want to adjust it in certain contexts. If other people in your workplace talk this way, I doubt it’s a problem. If you’re the only one who does, it’s more likely some people might make unflattering assumptions. Of course, you might reasonably not want to change your speech patterns no matter what people think. It’s a judgment call for the individual.

  19. Riot Grrrl*

    Another “to-do” that I would add is: don’t be afraid to experiment and/or get things wrong. This depends greatly on the industry and on the office culture, but saying you need to “get more confidence” might also be a way of telling you to try and figure things out even when not all the facts are known.

    I know that with my direct reports I feel that things are going well when people try new things or explore new solutions to things before they simply come to me to ask for a solution or for “the right way” to do something.

    Obviously, you must use discretion—you don’t want to just be trying out new methods of removing a brain tumor on the fly—but some initiative at personal inventiveness can go a long way.

  20. Yellow Springs*

    I have another possibility based on my experience.
    When I was told I was not being confident enough, it didn’t make sense to me either. I pushed, and it turned out what it meant was that I was bringing my ideas to our internal group meetings as a forum to discuss and hone the ideas collaboratively into a final form (this is what I viewed as the point of the meeting) … whereas my team lead was expecting me to bring my ideas to group meetings as “final decisions I’ve already made” to get a thumbs up on.
    I really prefer thinking out loud and bouncing ideas off people, and I always come away from the meetings feeling really decisive on my ideas. When I explained what was happening to her and asked for some allowance for collaboration, I think we were able to come to a middle ground. I’m still allowed to bounce ideas off my team in the meetings, but I learned that I should be more prepared coming in, to make the conversations more targeted.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I have the same experience. In my role, confidence is called “having a perspective”. That doesn’t mean being closed to other ideas, but it does mean thinking things through enough to come to the table with a clear proposal: Based on this situation and factoring in ABC, this is the solution I recommend. At most: These are our (very few) options and the (very high level) pros/cons, and this one is my recommendation because XYZ. It doesn’t have to be a final decision but it must be clear and simple.

      I also love thinking out loud, but while it is fun for me it is confusing for others and they find it a waste of their time. So I have to do the work of processing on my own and getting my thoughts straight in advance. (With most people at least.) And, in truth, forcing myself through this is often as beneficial to me as it is to them. It strengthens my thinking and creates a better conversation in the room with others. I’m glad I was pushed to do this more.

  21. BellyButton*

    I recently had a manager ask me to coach one of their direct reports on their confidence. When I started to get to the root of the problem I identified the employee’s lack of confidence was a direct result of constantly changing goals, unclear metrics, and a lack of communication from the manager. I then had to work with the manager to get them to understand their lack of clarity and bad communication was causing this person to feel so uncertain and stressed out.

  22. Roza*

    Generally agree, but for the specific case of over explaining/always needing to justify your ideas — I find that if I give something short and assertive or offer my opinion directly, I immediately get a flood of pushback/asking if I verified basic things. So I do tend to overexplain to head off what I know will be a mountain of pushback (or at least to limit it to things actually worth discussing). Softening my stance and phrasing something as a question or suggestion even when I’m 100% sure I’m correct also often helps get the idea accepted. May be a “being a woman in tech” thing, though.

  23. Delta Delta*

    As a courtroom litigator and a law school instructor (and all the other speaking roles I have), I have learned a few things that have helped to create an air of confidence (and there are plenty of times I am absolutely faking it):

    1. Record yourself talking and listen back. It’ll feel cringey at first, but you can get a good sense of your speech patterns. If you don’t like a particular thing you do with your speech, change it! It takes practice, but if you want to change something you can.

    2. Speak just a hair more slowly. That can also help with making sure you’re articulating your words really clearly, but also make you seem authoritative.

    3. Make sure you have good posture. This is good for you anyway, but if you practice keeping your shoulder blades down and back and gazing forward instead of down, it’ll make you seem more confident.

    Hopefully some actionable items can help! I know this was from 2018, but we all need a confidence boost from time to time.

  24. Jenna Webster*

    I feel like managers can really help build confidence by responding appropriately at the time. If they’re bringing you a problem they can solve, ask them what they would do and then let them know that there thinking is correct and their solution is solid. Over time, I’ve also said, oh, you don’t need to ask me about that anymore, you probably know better than I do now. It’s not that the person shouldn’t be thinking about it too, but the boss can help build confidence through everyday discussions.

  25. MES*

    I have said this before in reviews and meant it as a compliment–i.e., you are knowledgeable, you are doing a great job, have confidence in yourself!

  26. Chilipepper Attitude*

    The OP in the original post of this commented at the end as “LW” – this was really much more to do with the sexist and racist boss than the OP!

    1. Wonka Chocolate Factory*

      She said she was going to have a conversation with him about how he talks to different people–I wonder how that played out.

  27. Raida*

    That’s an EXCELLENT list of specifics! I hope this is useful to LW, because it really shows the breadth of things ‘confidence’ could refer to – and that’s one of the problems with feedback like this, it can mean so many things it an end up meaning nothing

  28. Donatello Nobati*

    Wow, do I love this list of suggestions from Alison. Wish I’d had them 30 years ago. My current confidence level has been hard-won. But I still prefer working with folks who present as less confident than dealing with the ones who don’t know what the heck they’re doing and lie and mislead others. Or the ones who train others incorrectly because they are so convinced that their ignorance is excellence.

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