Questions on confidence at work

Delegates from law (including the Crown Prosecution Service) and finance firms joined a workshop on “Boost Your Confidence at Work – A toolbox for professionals”. They held various roles including: head of department, partner, trainee solicitor, paralegal, legal executive, business development, recruitment and technical writing. Delegates asked lots of questions – and shared their knowledge and ideas generously. I’ve summarised some of their questions on confidence at work. 

What impacts our confidence?

The numerous ways in which our confidence is affected were discussed. We considered the difference between how self-confident we feel (internal) and how confident we appear to others (external). We touched on the link between self-esteem and self-confidence and how this develops through our childhood experiences.

Delegates reported things that affected their confidence such as: anxiety, serious illness, mental health diagnoses, difficulties juggling work and personal life, not making as much progress in their career as hoped, feeling overwhelmed, receiving challenging feedback and returning to work after maternity leave. 

What’s the difference between our own and others’ perception of confidence?

We talked about Imposter Syndrome. The polls revealed that a surprising number of delegates experience these feelings of self-doubt. The research (e.g. Indeed/YouGov survey) does too:

  • Three in five workers experience Imposter Syndrome
  • Nearly twice as many women (21%) suffer frequently than men (12%)
  • Millennials (25 to 39 year olds) are the age group most likely to feel it in the workplace (27%)

During the session, one of the delegates was asked by a colleague for help with something. She explained that she couldn’t help immediately as she was on a confidence workshop. Both colleagues expressed surprise as they both perceived her as a highly confident professional. Proving the point that what we feel on the inside isn’t necessarily what others perceive on the outside!

Is there a link between mind and body for confidence?

When we lack confidence we may feel it in our bodies. Our hearts race, our hands shake, our breathing shallows and our voice may wobble. If we feel threatened, our fight, flight, freeze or fawn response may be triggered. Our bodies then fill with chemicals creating a physiological response that we experience as fear, stress or anxiety.

There is a strong link between our body and our mind. Your physical health will have an impact on your confidence. You need to get enough sleep, (good) food and exercise. Connections and relationships are also important – so check you have a good support system.

Here are Mind’s 5 tips for good mental health 5 Ways to Wellbeing | Mind – Mind: Connect, Get active, Take notice, Learn and Give.

What if I tend to overthink things?

We spent time considering what is happening in our minds when we lack confidence. Some reported that they overthink, suffer from repetitive negative thinking patterns or have overly critical thoughts about themselves.

Overthinking is not a mental illness but is associated with conditions including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance use disorders. Rumination is where you feel stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts.

Delegates shared experiences about assuming a worst-case scenario, worrying about increased workloads and panicking in advance of a presentation. We discussed cognitive distortions and how to manage them. Common cognitive distortions include:

  • Catastrophic thinking
    • “It will be a disaster and my career will be over”
  • Black and White/All or nothing thinking
    • “Either the campaign will be a complete success and I’ll be promoted or it’ll bomb and I’ll be fired”
  • Overgeneralisations
    • “I never say the right thing in meetings”
  • Jumping to conclusions
    • “It looks like you’re disappointed with me”
  • Should
    • “I should have worked that out on my own”
  • Emotional reasoning
    • “I’m feeling inadequate – I don’t belong anywhere”

These resources – which address cognitive distortions and low self-esteem may help:

Dr Julie Smith (Mental Health Guidance) ( Sections on: low mood, emotional pain, self-doubt, motivation, grief, dealing with criticism, self-esteem, anxiety, stress and purpose in life.

Book review: How to do the work (recognise your patterns ( Sections on: self-awareness, trauma, mind and body links, inner child, boundaries, reparenting and emotional maturity.

art and science of overcoming clinical depression (2021) by Oliver Kamm” ( Sections on: what is depression, causes of depression, diagnosing depression, medical treatment, psychological treatment and living with depression.

What can I do when I’m constantly criticising myself?

We explored our inner dialogue which can be highly self-critical echoing carers’ voices from our childhood. There is often a lot of use of the word “should” as well.

We looked at ways to convert our inner critic into an inner coach. And learned that the most effective people manage to balance a positive view of the future with a realistic grasp of the potential obstacles.

We need to be kinder and more compassionate to ourselves – as we would be to other people. This means taking care when we provide feedback to others The art of giving feedback – top tips ( to create a safe, appreciative environment where people can learn.

How do I deal with vulnerability? 

No one is perfect! We continue to learn throughout our lives so there will always be new things to challenge us. The pace of change at work is accelerating so there will be many occasions when we lack confidence, have to tackle new things and suffer from learning anxiety.

We discussed strategies for managing our self-confidence and presenting a confident image for example: the use of alter egos and “putting on armour”. But there were questions about whether his was authentic and a useful debate about the need to share when we feel vulnerable.

This 20 minute TED lecture by Brene Brown has been viewed over 63 million times Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability | TED Talk. She talks about how many people feel shame and this affects their sense of worthiness and their ability to be authentic. Research indicates that you need courage, compassion and connections to share vulnerabilities.  There is a whole management movement about leaders needing to show vulnerability – What Courageous Leaders Do Differently (

This is a great book with lots of guidance on how to ask for help Reinforcements: How to get people to help you by Heidi Grant (

What about confidence for those on the autism spectrum? (Neurodiversity)

There were questions about what neurodiverse people – for example, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – can do to increase their confidence.

Self-confidence and autism – Counselling Directory ( suggests:

  • Acceptance and support
  • Building social skills
  • Accommodating sensory needs
  • Encouraging self-advocacy
  • Celebrating strengths and accomplishments

You should read about support at work for autistic people autistic adults ( And perhaps speak to your Human Resource professionals.

This article may also be useful 10 Tips to Improve Autistic Confidence & Self-Esteem – Autistic & Unapologetic (

How do I navigate difficult situations with confidence?

Delegates were generous when sharing their ideas on how to deal with difficult situations and adversity.

Some of the suggestions included:

  • Break things down into bite-sized pieces
  • Take one day at a time
  • Tackle the easier things in your inbox
  • Create a “Ta Da!” list – noting things you have done or achieved
  • Separate what concerns you from what you can influence
  • Remember “It’s just a conversation, it can’t physically hurt you”
  • Keep in mind that a challenging situation may only last a few minutes
  • Take a step back for a few moments. Breathe. Use grounding techniques.

This is a great book for strategies to manage being overwhelmed and stress Crazy busy – Book review – Dealing with stress ( You should speak to your line manager if you often feel stressed.

What if I cry easily?

Some delegates reported that they have a tendency to cry easily and were keen to learn how to manage these situations. The following may be useful:

Do You Cry Easily? Here’s the Most Likely Reason Why (

There were also suggestions that you say something like: “I tend to cry easily. Please do not be alarmed. I would appreciate it if you would continue to speak to me and try to disregard my tears – I am OK”

How do you say “No” to senior people?

Saying “No” to people is often difficult – especially to senior people. Maintaining healthy boundaries is important for your self-esteem too. You’ll need a host of confidence and assertiveness skills and tools to help you. Here are some resources:

Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” (

Be visible, assert and challenge and remember your goals (

assertiveness, effectiveness and impact – We’re all in the same boat (

assertiveness, impact and effectiveness (

What about confidence when working remotely?

There were lots of ideas for appearing confident when communicating electronically or participating in virtual meetings.

As well as exploring cultural, gender and generational differences in digital communication, this book is packed with useful ideas for written communications – through email, text and messaging channels: Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (

Delegate Views and Poll Results

Delegates find it helpful to reflect on how their views compare to other delegates.

Delegate aims for session included:

  • Learn tools for boosting confidence in self and colleagues
  • Avoid self-criticism
  • Be more confident interacting with others (especially senior people)
  • Gain as much as possible while moving between seats on training contract
  • Speak up about stress
  • Balance work in numerous departments
  • Finding a good work-life balance
  • Reduce feeling fear in challenging situations
  • Navigate situations where there may be judgement (e.g. appraisals)

At the end of the session, delegates reported what they found most useful:

  • Consider how often I use “should”
  • How to react to feedback
  • Some good book recommendations
  • Reframing the negative thoughts to be positive thoughts
  • Challenging self-doubt
  • Building self-esteem
  • Using an alter ego
  • Sitting down by myself and working out what I want
  • Use of body language
  • Thinking positively
  • Breathing tips
  • Stop doubting myself
  • Recognising that people value the how more than the why
  • The need for pathos as well as the logic and reasoning
  • Link between self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Comforting to see lots of people are dealing with the same feelings and challenges
  • There are a lot of tools and strategies to be able to change how things are
  • Tips on how to be more assertive were really useful to me
  • The further learning resources

Delegate feedback at the end of the session included:

  • Thank you. great session!
  • Thank you very much – really helpful!
  • Thank you Kim, you’ve given us a lot to think about
  • I appreciated juggling of answers and comments, and timeliness!
  • One of the best courses I’ve been on
  • Thank you for a really engaging webinar – much better than many management/strategy webinars I have attended

Confidence levels

At the start of session? How would you like to feel at work? At the end of the session?
2 8%
4 42%
5 8%
6 25% 15%
7 25% 38%
8 50% 31%
9 42% 8%
10 8%


How often do you experience Imposter Syndrome?

  • 31% Occasionally
  • 46% Often
  • 23% All the time

Which is the situation where you most lack confidence?

  • 8% Day-to-day role within the team
  • 8% Learning new things
  • 50% Presentations/public speaking
  • 8% Actual or virtual meetings
  • 8% Social/conversations
  • 17% Conflict situations

Do you avoid things that make you feel nervous?

  • 62% Sometimes
  • 38% Always

Are you mostly:

  • 25% An optimist
  • 75% A pessimist

How resilient do you think you are? Improve your resilience – tools to help you cope in difficult times (

  • 7% Very low
  • 36% Low
  • 24% Average
  • 42% High

What impact do you think clothes have on how confident you appear? (1=low, 10=high)

  • 3 – 8%
  • 7 – 15%
  • 8 – 23%
  • 9 – 23%
  • 10 –31%

Where does most of your personal power come from? How do you make a personal impact – Make a difference (

  • 30% Presence
  • 20% Authority
  • 50% Impact

Do you think you are: Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” (

  • 15% Assertive
  • 62% Passive
  • 23% Passive-Aggressive
  • 0%   Aggressive

I think my boundaries are:

  • 67% Porous
  • 25% Healthy
  • 8% Rigid

Related posts on confidence 

Book review: How to do the work (recognise your patterns ( December 2023

The patterns of NLP applied to business interactions by Daryll Scott ( December 2023 

How to start conversations that get results ( September 2023 

Dr Julie Smith (Mental Health Guidance) ( July 2023

Boosting Your Confidence at Work – A Toolbox for Success ( July 2023 

Assertive communication: The importance of voice ( May 2023

Conversation skills book review ( May 2023

Soft skills – Boost your self-confidence and confidence (Video) ( October 2022

Telephone skills: Anxiety, voice, etiquette and the client experience ( September 2022

Book review: The psychology of successful women by Shona Rowan ( June 2022

Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – the basics (Video) ( August 2021

Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan ( June 2021

Improve your resilience – tools to help you cope in difficult times ( November 2020

Insights into assertiveness, confidence and effectiveness ( October 2020

Be more visible – the PVI model ( September 2019

Be more confident and convey confidence – top tips ( June 2019

assertiveness, impact and effectiveness ( March 2018

How do you make a personal impact – Make a difference ( March 2018

Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” ( March 2017

Crazy busy – Book review – Dealing with stress ( October 2009