When it comes to poor self-confidence, sometimes you just need to fake it to make it.
If you're one of the many who battle low self-esteem, your career is probably suffering as a result. Experts say that people with low self-esteem engage in subconscious behaviors that undermine their success, making them less likely to ask for or get promotions, raises and even jobs.
According to Lois Frankel, Ph.D., president of Corporate Coaching International and author of the bestselling Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office, "People with low self-esteem often try to remain under the radar screen because they don't want to be noticed, but especially in this economy, that is the wrong thing to do."
What's worse, low self-esteem may mask positive traits in an individual. "We make assumptions about people who exhibit behaviors of low self-esteem," says Frankel. "We may ascribe lower intelligence, even though that's not true."
Signs of low self-esteem
Frankel identifies certain traits in individuals with low work self-esteem: generally, they are people with low confidence who are risk-averse. They are less likely to speak up in meetings or to take on challenging tasks, which can lead superiors to believe they are ineffective. None of which is good when you're fighting to stay afloat in a competitive work environment.
Low self-esteem may also manifest itself through body language and presentation. Sharon Fountain, president of the National Association for Self Esteem, points to "uptalk" as a particular culprit. That is, saying all of your statements as though they are questions, which makes you seem less confident. Speaking too quietly, which denotes fear, and not making enough gestures to emphasise points and convey energy can also betray you in important work settings, especially when it comes to landing the job.
Effects of low self-esteem
These subconscious behaviors may evolve out of a fear of rejection, but they actually have the effect of being deal breakers during an interview.
It's a double-edged sword, explains Nathaniel Branden a California-based psychologist and pioneer in the field of self-esteem, since "the fear of being rejected leads to ... behaviors that ensure your fears come true."
In fact, one of the most dangerous behaviors that people with low self-esteem tend to exhibit is pessimism.
A person with low self-esteem may ask for a raise this way: "I realise we've had a bad year and there have been layoffs, but I've been doing more work and I think I deserve a raise."
"You just gave [your superior] ammunition to say no," Frankel says.
Instead of highlighting the negative, Frankel advises a positive approach backed up by hard-core evidence: Try something like, "In the past 12 months, I've taken on 25 per cent more responsibility and have been working more hours and I think I deserve to be compensated."
"Now you haven't set yourself up to fail," Frankel says.
Managing low self-esteem
The concept of self-esteem has been around since about the 1940s and has been contested for almost as long. But whether or not our culture is responsible for ever-increasing self-worth issues, the fact remains that people with higher self-esteem have better work experiences than their less confident counterparts.
In several studies conducted between 2005 and 2007, University of Florida professor Timothy Judge found that people with high core self evaluations, or positive self-concepts, had increased levels of job satisfaction, better job performance, higher income, higher work motivation and reduced stress and burnout.
Ironically, men are better off when it comes to self-esteem on the job, not because they don't have self doubts, but because low confidence manifests differently for women than it does men. "Men are better at masking it," says Frankel.
Some of the biggest mistakes women make include asking permission to do things and over-explaining yourself, which can belittle your message. One quick fix is trying to use 25 per cent fewer words in conversations and emails so as not to dilute your point.
On the flip side, "lack of confidence can be a supreme driver, leading people to become workaholics," says Fountain, who notes that people with low self-esteem can accomplish just as much as their more confident counterparts. "They just may not have enjoyed the process or have as much fun doing it."
Banishing low self-esteem for good
Unfortunately, we're fighting a losing battle. In the past decade work has gone from being a source for self-esteem to being a self-esteem drainer. Demand for productivity has grown so much that most of us feel as if we aren't doing enough, no matter how much we actually accomplish.
But there are things you can do to boost your self-esteem anyway. Frankel goes by the adage, "fake it until you make it." This will not only convince your superiors, but it will also help you rejigger your thought processes.
Changing less-than-ideal-behaviors, like a propensity to stay mum in meetings, is another good idea: The first two to three people to speak during a meeting are seen as more self-confident, says Frankel, and "in business, that pays off."
Fountain emphasises that self-esteem can be learned. It may sound silly, but positive self-talk can be empowering. So when those negative thoughts telling you you're not good enough pop into your head, recognise them and replace them with positive ones.
"What you're doing is working with the unconscious mind," she explains, "which is extraordinarily powerful and extremely stupid." In other words, it is perfectly within your power to fool your unconscious mind, allowing you to banish low self-esteem for good.