Be more confident and convey confidence

Confidence arises as an issue in many workshops – whether junior or senior people, whether fee-earners or marketing professionals, whether making a pitch or speaking in public. Confidence and self-confidence are covered in my latest book “Better Business Relationships” In this post, I have summarised some tips to be more confident and convey confidence.

Confidence and self-confidence

There is a difference between feeling self-confident (internal) and conveying confidence (external).

There’s also a difference between being generally low in confidence (possibly indicating low self-esteem) and feeling nervous about a particular situation.

First I shall consider how to build your self-confidence so that you feel more confident. Then I shall explore how to convey confidence (perhaps even if you do not feel it).

The relationship between self-esteem and self-confidence

Self-confidence is connected to self-esteem. Self-esteem is something we develop when we are young – it’s the difference between how we see ourselves (our self-image) and our “‘perfect self”’ or how we think we should be. If parents criticize the child (“‘You are lazy”’) rather than the child’s behaviour (“‘You are acting lazy”’) then their self-esteem will be low.

Howard Becker, a sociologist, made a statement about labeling in 1963: “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.” What makes something deviant is not what is done, but how people react to what is done. Labeling affects the person who is labelled – they begin to believe their label.

For a strong self-image and high self-esteem, parents need to help children learn that everybody makes mistakes and gets things wrong sometimes, everyone feels negative emotions and feels angry, sad or lonely at times, nobody is perfect and adults aren’t always right, looks aren’t everything and internal qualities are important and that the child is loved regardless of their errors or faults.

Children need to reflect and learn, as self-esteem comes from within. Children need clear boundaries, lots of praise when they do things well and the promise of rewards for when they achieve things. They need to know when they do things wrong, to be asked about what more appropriate behaviour might be and given responsibility for doing so in future.

There are two models of self-esteem – the enclosed circle model shows that the individual is the most important person in their own life, but accepts that others are their own most important people. Enclosed circle people are reassured about all the things that they are and do and it doesn’t matter what other people do or think.

The linear model of self-esteem only allows an individual to feel good about themselves by comparing themselves favourably with others. It divides everything up – everyone can’t be equally good, there has to be a hierarchy with someone being the best.

A perfectionist is someone who has to get everything right – they have excessively high standards. Perfectionists have difficulty letting things go and varying standards to the time available and the effort needed. Perfectionists often appear to be control freaks. Perfectionists often have unrecognized fears and needs – they are motivated by a fear of failure and are never satisfied by achievements.

Perfectionists also keep emotions under tight control and fear showing vulnerability or losing control. Healthy people are motivated by enthusiasm and generally feel OK about themselves, show vulnerability and aren’t afraid of making mistakes.

Brené Brown remarked that “‘Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives”’ and pointed out that we are neurobiologically wired to connect with people. We feel a sense of shame and fear at the prospect of disconnection as it makes us feel unworthy. She also added that “‘what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful”’ and suggested that – to support connection – we let ourselves be seen more clearly, which includes revealing some of our vulnerabilities. This relates to authenticity.

Common fears in business life

There are many common fears in business life that affect our confidence.

Fear causes our bodies to flood with stress hormones such as adrenal and cortisol and triggers the “fight, flight or freeze” reaction and our cognitive ability is impaired.

Whilst some fears are justified, some people have phobias which are irrational fears.

For example, Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking. It is thought that three quarters of people experience glossophobia.

Some people – estimates suggest around 37% of people – are afraid of social situations . They may also have broader social phobia or a social anxiety disorder which makes it difficult for them to feel confident when meeting new people or socialising. So networking for them is challenging.

Many people fear change – a form of learning anxiety. A third of people are better at adapting to change than others.

In one study, almost a quarter of people were afraid of phone calls! (see

Some people fear conflict. So they avoid it. It can help if you develop your assertiveness skills

Dealing with nerves and stress

If we are fearful we are likely to be nervous. And this will affect our self-confidence and reduce our ability to perform well.

When feeling nervous we can try to self-calm ourselves – perhaps by a simple grounding exercise (where we focus on our breathing and relaxing all parts of our body) or other relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

We might also try a visualisation exercise such as imaging a circle of excellence which is taught in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP – see

There are several blog posts about managing stress:

And this is an excellent, practical book on stress management by a psychiatrist:

One way to gradually overcome your fears is to face the situations that cause you anxiety. This process is known as exposure therapy and is usually carried out as part of a larger treatment program like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).

Build your self-confidence and feel more confident

To build your self-confidence, you can:

  • Get training – From degrees and professional qualifications which can take a long time to achieve, to training courses and e-learning tools that can be completed quickly.
  • Prepare properly – Research and read all the information you need in advance. Prepare your questions. Anticipate what will be discussed and the likely concerns that will arise so that you are ready for whatever happens. Know what you might say and what you want to achieve.
  • Engage in positive self-talk – Rather than thinking about your inexperience and failings, direct your inner conversation to be more positive – your strengths, your past achievements, your successes and your track record. Neutralise internal negative self-talk and your inner critic.
  • Look after yourself – Get enough sleep, exercise and avoid too much caffeine, which can make you feel edgy. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake – correct it and move on, don’t dwell on it.
  • Avoid perfectionism – 80% of the result usually comes from 20% of the effort (this is called the Pareto effect). Too many people invest too much time striving for perfection. Accept that “‘good enough is good enough”’.
  • Focus on what you can do – Don’t let big issues that are beyond your grasp upset you; focus on the things that you can influence, change or control. Remember the Serenity prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr): “‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”’.
  • Surround yourself with positive people – Negative people can be wearing and depressing. Spend time with upbeat and enthusiastic people who choose to see your strengths and opportunities rather than problems.
  • Enjoy yourself – Find time for the things that you enjoy and find pleasure in small steps and successes.

There is an excellent TED video (see by psychologist Amy Cuddy who talks about an experiment in which people adopted one of five “‘power poses”’ for just two minutes and changed their physiology by releasing the chemical testosterone into their systems. This actually made them feel more confident.

Convey confidence

It’s helpful to know how to present a confident image, even if you don’t feel confident. Many people suffer from imposter syndrome – most famously, Michelle Obama. Imposter syndrome is where people are unable to accept their strengths and successes and feel that they are frauds. They are fearful that people will discover their weaknesses.

To present high self-confidence (although remember the need to be authentic):

  • Use Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – Be aware of the messages you are conveying unconsciously. 55% of our communication meaning comes from body language (and much less – 38% – from how we sound or what we say – 7%). Confident people in Western cultures adopt an open and upright posture, avoid folding their arms and crossing their legs, use a large amount of body space, maintain eye contact, smile and speak at the right pace and at a good volume. For more on NVC see .
  • Acknowledge your successes – Acknowledge your past successes, what you have achieved and learned, what obstacles you have overcome and your strengths.
  • Accept the facts – You were chosen for your job and you are capable of performing well.
  • Know you will survive – Whatever life throws at you, know that you will survive.

But always be authentic

Authenticity is defined as “not false or copied; genuine; real” or “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified”. While conveying confidence it is important that we remain true to ourselves.

Humanistic psychologists say that authentic people possess a number of common characteristics that show they are psychologically mature and fully functioning as human beings. They…

  • Have realistic perceptions of reality
  • Are accepting of themselves and of other people
  • Are thoughtful
  • Have a non-hostile sense of humour
  • Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly
  • Are open to learning from their mistakes
  • Understand their motivations