How to Become More Confident and Assertive at Work and School
To be honest, this is also one of my personal goals as a professional and as a graduate student. I identified this as an area that I really needed to develop when I first started working in a professional setting. While I was excited to finally have a “big girl job”, I was also scared out of my wits. There I was, in my cubicle, back at the bottom of the totem pole. I felt the need to say yes to every project that was put upon me and to never question authority (both in school and at work). I work as an admission counselor, and when I was faced with angry parents and students in counseling appointments, I tended to freeze up, get tongue tied, and somehow convince myself that it was all my fault and that I was a terrible counselor. I absolutely HATED making mistakes, even if it was something small and insignificant like forgetting to cite a source in my research proposals. I felt the need to be the perfect employee and student because in my mind, no one likes the new girl who messes up. As you might imagine, that initial high and excitement started to slowly wear off and morphed into a sense of insecurity.
To my surprise, I wasn’t the only one experiencing this. After expressing my worries to some of my girlfriends, they too had the same feelings as I did. I realized that this was common among people that were in the same situation as me: fresh out of college and starting our career. I wasn’t alone. Although we ALL knew that we shouldn’t be so afraid, somehow those feelings kept creeping up. I thought to myself, “There HAS to be something that can help me combat these feelings of timidity and self- doubt.”
Then came my decision towards a new destination: to be more assertive and stand up for myself. To be more confident in what I say, what I do, and to trust myself. To not be so afraid of saying “no” when needed and to not be afraid to reach out for help and ask questions. To not be afraid of making mistakes, because no one is perfect and every day is a learning experience for everyone. This has become my mantra that I repeat to myself every day.
After trying out different tactics and stumbling around for a little bit, I found a few ways to help me get one step closer to my goal. These are what have helped me personally, and perhaps they could help you too:
- Fake it ‘til you make it: In terms of confidence, if for some reason I feel self-doubt about myself, I always try to fake the confidence. For example, when I attended my first graduate class, I was VERY intimidated of my classmates (I don’t know why. I knew I shouldn’t be intimidated because we were ALL students, after all.) The students were all 2nd or 3rd year graduate students, a lot were doctoral candidates, they all had their laptops out, knew exactly what they were doing, and I felt like all of their eyes were picking me to pieces. The next few classes, I decided act like I knew exactly what I was doing. I brought my laptop to class, sat up straight and tall, typed up all my notes, and threw in a head nod every once in a while to signify that I understood the material. After several classes, I actually began to feel more confident in myself and felt more comfortable around my classmates.
- If you have a question, ask it! Contrary to popular belief, asking questions isn’t a sign of inferior intelligence. I can bet that many of you who are reading this right now can relate to this situation: you are given a set of instructions or information, had a question, but didn’t want to ask it for multiple reasons (insecurity, didn’t want to be bothersome, didn’t want to be annoying, didn’t want to risk asking a stupid question, etc.). Then you spend hours trying to come up with an answer to satisfy your question. I definitely experienced this situation many times throughout my life and I’ve learned that asking as many questions as I need and executing a task with confidence is better than the opposite.
- Talk slower. I am a fast talker by nature. As a result, I end up slurring my words together and sometimes I forget what I’m going to say. I realized that this was a problem when I started recruiting people to a university and became tongue tied frequently. I started to consciously slow down my speaking pace and enunciate each word clearly. It has given me more time to create my thoughts, to effectively communicate exactly what I want to communicate, and to speak with more confidence. The reaction from others when I speak slower is different, too. People seem to trust me more and regard me as a more reliable source of information.
So for all of you who can relate to this situation, remember this:
Don’t be afraid to be assertive and stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to be confident in what you say and what you do. Remember to trust yourself. Don’t be afraid of saying “no” when needed and don’t be afraid to reach out for help and ask questions. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because no one is perfect and every day is a learning experience for everyone.