Read The Confidence Myth Online

Authors: Helene Lerner

The Confidence Myth (8 page)

BOOK: The Confidence Myth
9.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Confidence spark

When giving feedback, be calm, clear, and direct. If you're trying to help someone improve, be specific about what he could do better and give an example. Use positive language—for example, say “Try doing this . . .” not, “Stop doing that . . .” Be compassionate. Think about how he will likely feel.

What would you do?


Hold yourself back

Win with honest feedback

You receive some unexpected feedback from your boss. He is disappointed in the way you handled an account.

You are surprised and start to get defensive. He gets more annoyed by your reaction.

You can feel yourself getting defensive, but you pause before you say something you will regret.

Someone you supervise is coming in late and leaving early on a regular basis. You know you need to talk with her and the conversation will be difficult.

You talk around the issue. You aren't clear about what the point is.

You are direct and speak concisely. You've role-played the situation with a friend to make sure you are prepared for your staff member's reaction.

You overhear your manager talking about a situation you handled poorly.

You have not discussed the incident with him yet.

You avoid bringing the situation up and hope he does as well. You know what went wrong, and you're feeling bad about it.

You address the situation as soon as you can with him, getting his take on how it could have been handled better. You thank him for his candor.

Power tools

Practice detachment.
Don't take feedback personally. It's how we find out what's in the way of our advancement.

Use your intuition
to distinguish which advice is useful and which is not. If you need help telling the difference, reach out to a trusted colleague.

Be direct
and determine what is important to address when giving feedback. Use an example to illustrate your point.

Create Power Parameters


If I don't do it, no one else will.


If I say no, others will pick up the slack, and that will be just fine.

In January 2014 I was a guest expert on CNN International's
World One
with former host Zain Verjee. We were joking around and I asked her what she thought the most important two-letter word for women was. Zain came up with a great answer:
But that wasn't what I had in mind. The two-letter word I was thinking of was

Let's face it. We are all spread too thin. With our jobs, social obligations, home lives, child care, elder care, and community responsibilities—whatever your personal combination is—most of the time we are stretched, perhaps to the limit.

We diminish our power when we are in such a state. That is why creating power parameters—defining your boundaries, choosing your commitments, saying no when necessary,
and protecting your time—is so important. Yet many of us struggle with asserting ourselves in this way.

When we set boundaries, we may feel shaky because we are not sure what someone's reaction will be. But the payback is that we are being true to ourselves, knowing our limits, and prioritizing what we need. When we act in this way, we gain confidence. In fact, can we really feel confident if we are not authentic? I don't think so.

In the Women and Confidence Survey, 42 percent of question respondents said they would “say no to things without feeling guilty” if they felt more confident. This chapter offers advice on how to negotiate power parameters with others and yourself and how to minimize guilt when making smart choices that benefit you but have consequences for those around you. We will explore saying no to what does not serve you, getting others to respect your boundaries, and the importance of making time for you.

Why is it so hard to say no?

Why do we say yes when we mean no? Is it because we are people-pleasers? As I've mentioned in previous chapters, many of us are taught as children to play nice and avoid making waves. I certainly was. For this reason, we may feel like we don't have permission to say no.

Some of us find it hard to say no because we are afraid that friends or colleagues will think poorly of us if we turn them down. I have wasted a lot of time in my life trying to assess what people would think if I said no to them. I've failed to realize that I can't control what anyone thinks whether I say yes or no, so it's better to be authentic from the start.

In my early twenties I was taking part in a workshop that went toward my master's in education. The leader was
making the point that we need to set our boundaries. He rattled off several requests of me, one after the other, and I had to respond yes or no. I found this tough to do because I was not used to thinking about what I wanted, just what was best for everyone else. I needed some inner work and help from a professional to develop my voice and become comfortable with risking the displeasure of others if I said no. Now, my goal is to support other women in getting to that place as well.

People pleasing takes a heavy toll on us. If I am feeling stretched and I say yes when I really mean no, I either end up resenting the person who asked for my help or I resent myself because I should have declined. Being genuine is better than being nice and that includes saying no.

People pleasing can be particularly harmful for women in the workplace. In an article for
The Nation
, writer Jessica Valenti put it this way, “Women adjust their behavior to be likable and as a result have less power in the world.”

For Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, wanting to be liked was one of the first things she had to let go of to be successful at her job. In
Lean In for Graduates
, Sheryl relates the story of her first formal review with CEO Mark Zuckerberg. She writes, “He said that when you want to change things, you can't please everyone.”

Jackie Hernández of Telemundo also warns of the pitfalls of being too agreeable. “It doesn't get you where you need to be,” she explains. “If a man people pleases, it's a different thing. When we do it, we look weak, not tough enough, because we just want people to be happy. The minute you find yourself just saying yes, you have to ask yourself

If you find yourself about to say yes against your better judgment, don't give in. Take a moment before you answer to remind yourself that your priorities are more important
than acquiescing. As with digesting feedback, taking time before reacting can lead you to a different behavior.

A helpful tactic for saying no is being respectful but honest. If your coworker asks for help on something you know she can figure out for herself and you have your own time-sensitive projects to deal with, try saying something like “I'm on a deadline, and I can't help you now. But what you're doing is similar to how you handled the XYZ project. Use the same strategy.” This approach has the great advantage of letting someone down gently and also being truthful.

Here is another example of how one woman learned to say no with the help of a friend. This smart but too-agreeable woman was spread too thin and the stress started to take a toll on her health. Her friend insisted that she tell anyone requesting her time that she would have to check with her “scheduler” (in reality, her friend) before taking on a new project. If the request was not worth her time, she came back to the requester with, “I'm sorry; my scheduler has advised me there's no room for anything new for the next several months.”

Sometimes we find it difficult to know when it's in our best interest to say no. We know setting boundaries is important, but the line can be blurry. Here are some examples culled from my experience and that of other women on when saying yes is appropriate and when it is best to say no. You could probably write your own list as well.

Say yes when

• It is an emergency and no one else is left at work to help out.

• Taking the assignment will give you heightened visibility with top management.

• You've said no several times recently, and you don't want to lose an office ally.

• What's being asked doesn't require much of your time.

Say no when

• You are overworked and one more commitment will totally overwhelm you.

• You've moved on to another job and a coworker from your former assignment is constantly asking for advice in the form of evening e-mails.

• You're not that fond of the person asking for help, and you don't want to go out of your way for him.

• You've been working late every night for a week and a half, and your family needs some quality time with you.

If it is unclear whether to say yes or no, write out the pluses and minuses of saying yes. Whichever column has more is the way to go.

Setting boundaries with yourself

Another reason why women don't say no enough is that we feel we should be able to do it all. By letting go of a do-itall, have-it-all mentality, we give ourselves room to be better at what we
do and enjoy more of what we

When we hold ourselves up to unachievable standards of productivity and excellence in our work and personal lives and something slips through the cracks, it can be hard to accept. In the Women and Confidence Survey, more than half of respondents who reported not feeling confident in their personal lives said that a major confidence detractor was not living up to their expectations of themselves. If impossibly high personal expectations and perfectionist behavior are undermining your confidence, maybe it's time to be more realistic about what you should expect from yourself.

Kathy Waller of Coca-Cola is like so many women I know (including myself) who has had to work on letting go of unrealistic personal standards. “It's not people that are the problem—it's
putting pressure on myself. It's easier to make better choices when I realize that,” Kathy shared. “I have gotten much better at recognizing when I need a timeout. I say to myself, ‘I'm going to have an overreaction unless I back off.'”

You may feel like you should be doing more, and you will encounter people who ask you to do unreasonable things in time frames that are impossible to meet. With awareness and the desire to assert what you need for your well-being, you can set limits so you don't crash and burn. In the next few sections, we will explore how to do just that.

Make your no someone else's yes

Charisse Lillie of Comcast used to feel like she had to do it all—she compared her overachieving tendencies at work to planning a dinner party for thirty-five people and taking on all the cooking, serving, entertaining, and most of the cleaning herself. Now she does the cooking but also involves others as part of the mix. On the nonprofit front she brags, “I call myself a great nominator because saying no gives me an opportunity to bring other people to the table. My no is somebody else's yes.”

Instead of saying yes to one more responsibility that will take you over the top, think about how you can find an alternative that will be a win for everyone. Here's an example:

Charisse received an honorary degree from a local college, and she was later asked to join its board. Doing so, however, wasn't the right fit for her at the time. Instead of just saying no, she declined politely and then offered up the name of
a woman whom she thought would be a terrific candidate. The result: “My colleague is happy, the president of the college is happy, and I'm happy,” exclaimed Charisse. She made her no a yes for all parties involved.

Negotiating power parameters

If you've made a habit of saying yes a lot, you may find it hard to break the cycle. That's where power parameters come into play. Being clear to yourself and others about where you stand and what your priorities are can help you speak up even when you're wary of saying no. Negotiating your power parameters is a way of asserting yourself and establishing your direction and goals.

How career women negotiate their promotions, salaries, benefits, et cetera is a widely studied area. The research shows that negotiating can be a difficult process for women because the consequences of standing up for ourselves can be much harsher than for men.
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg calls it “trying to cross a minefield backward in high heels.”

Research suggests that women may not put themselves out there because both men and women hold female employees to a different standard. It makes sense not to piss off the boss. On the other hand, if you don't ask, you don't get.

BOOK: The Confidence Myth
9.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

In the Balance by Harry Turtledove
Muzzled by June Whyte
Reaper by Edward Kendrick
Winning by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch
Hija de Humo y Hueso by Laini Taylor
The Phantom Diaries by Gow, Kailin