In this talk, leadership coach Tracey Ward talks to Joya Dass about her seven-step process for building greater self-confidence and combating one’s internal critic.
Like many women, Ward was told by her mother “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything”. Although well-meaning advice, this tendency, when internalized as an adult, can lead to women being afraid to assert themselves in business. Women can become conditioned to being “givers”.
We all have this little voice inside us that is brutally self-critical and full of doubt. Acknowledging that this voice is there and largely unhelpful can be the first step towards combating its negativity.
This is done with the help of humor, learning to laugh at the ridiculousness of the thoughts the voice throws up. Ward advises her clients to take three days to “get to know” the voice by writing down its persistent criticism on a series of Post-It Notes.
She points out that if you were to speak these thoughts aloud to a partner or a colleague, you’d either be abandoned or fired – this negativity is antisocial. If you find it difficult to identify the voice and what it’s saying, a couple of coaching sessions can help.
To achieve separation from this negative voice, Ward advises naming it, literally. She calls hers “Nasty Nan,” and is thereby able to notice when the antagonizing inner voice is speaking. This helps break the cycle which begins in childhood:
Self-talk replaces the conditioning we develop in childhood from our natural dependence on the voices of authority figures. Naming, recognizing, and ignoring the self-talk can break this self-destructive cycle.
Once you recognize the self-critical voice, you can begin to divide your thoughts into the useful and less useful. Ward uses the metaphor of a knife – it’s a useful tool if used from the handle end, but destructive if you grab the blade. She even advocates marking the knives in your home in some way, so they act as visual triggers for this process. Other visual hints you might use include Post-It notes containing written reminders.
By this Ward means that you learn to tell the difference between fact and fiction. For instance, if you were worried about gaining weight, you might visit your doctor and get your BMI assessed – facts will then replace the fictional, negative body image you could otherwise develop.
Another part of getting to the truth is accepting that a rejection can be much better news than endless not-knowing. You can begin the process of moving on to the next opportunity.
We all can slip into “imagining the worst” when something goes against our expectations. A healthier approach is to start with the best-case scenario and work towards a realistic appraisal of what has probably occurred.
Ward gives the example of her teenage daughter being out after midnight. The worst-case scenario is a kidnapping. Research shows the probability of this is 1 in 100,000. The best-case scenario is that her daughter has met a respectful man with whom she’s “saving the world”.
Realistically, her daughter’s absence is probably due to a dead phone battery on a normal night out.
This is a technique for restating one’s limitations. For instance, you wouldn’t say “I can’t swim” but instead reframe it as “I can’t swim yet” or “I can’t swim at the moment.”
This is a particularly good strategy to teach teenagers, who can be prone to negative self-assessment.
Business itself can be reframed as a game, transforming even tasks you find personally difficult into challenges, with objectives, goals, and a sense of achievement.
Remember to laud your own achievements, in a subtle manner, in the minutes of meetings and through inter-departmental communications. It is all too easy for women to fall into the habit of praising team efforts at the expense of recognizing their own individual achievements.
Ward says: “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.” It is not a sign of weakness to know when you need the assistance of others, whether they come in the form of friends, coaches, or counsellors.
It is okay to show your vulnerabilities to your children. By seeing how you deal with and recover from trauma, you are providing a good role model for them.
Ward discusses the usefulness of role play, particularly when preparing for a situation you haven’t experienced yet. It creates a proxy experience to help you face the real thing. Practice those activities you find personally challenging, within a safe environment.
Maintaining boundaries is vital too. However, once these have been explicitly stated, either at home or in the workplace, they must be adhered to consistently by both parties.
Finally, when demonstrating confidence at work results in a negative response from colleagues, it is okay to take colleagues aside in a private meeting and ask for feedback. You could, for instance, point out the defensive body language that developed in the room and ask for an honest answer as to why participants reacted as they did.
This must be done in a spirit of honest enquiry, and not to hold others to account.