Reading an article about how to build self-confidence at work recently, I stopped on the first piece of advice: “Believe in yourself.” If you believe in yourself, you don’t need to be reading an article about self-confidence. You’re already there.

After decades of working with clients who lack self-confidence, both as a therapist and later as a coach, I have learned there are five actual steps people can take to become more self-confident. 

The 5-step Golden plan to build self-confidence

1. Do great work

If you’re doing crummy work and you’re self-confident, you’re delusional. Pay attention, seize as many learning opportunities as you can, and work hard to become the best you can be.

Just be aware that doing great work is not enough. Lots of people are outstanding at what they do, but they don’t believe it. They sell themselves short. They think their great performance is just a fluke. They don’t give themselves credit for their successes. That’s where step two comes in.

2. Silence your inner critic. 

Most of us have a voice inside our head that tells us how inadequate we are. I call that voice the “obnoxious roommate.” 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be self-critical. One of the ways you become great is by being tough on yourself and demanding better performance. But the obnoxious roommate isn’t helping you get better. He/she is holding you back by tearing you down no matter how good you are.

Getting rid of the obnoxious roommate is difficult. Sometimes the voice is echoing a parent or teacher who was relentlessly hard on you. But learning to be aware of that voice, to challenge it, and to silence it, is amazingly liberating.

3. Tell yourself you’re doing great work

Once you’ve silenced unhelpful self-criticism, you can relish your achievements. Admire what you have done. This may feel unnatural at first. You may feel as if you’re being arrogant or boastful. But remember, this conversation is going on only inside your own head. You’re not showing off to anyone else. You’re just being honest with yourself that you did a great job.

4. Tell others you’re doing great work

Then it’s time to “show off” to others. Too many people make the mistake of thinking their work speaks for itself. Usually you have to let people know about your achievements. Again, I’m not talking about being boastful or self-aggrandizing. I’m talking about letting key people know when you’ve done something well. 

Who are the key people? At work, they’re your stakeholders — your boss, your team, your customers, your investors. Outside of work, they’re your cheerleaders — the people who care about you and your success. When you share the good news with them, their positive response will affirm and support your self-confidence.

5. Don’t tolerate bad treatment. 

People who know and appreciate their own value don’t accept mistreatment from others. They have a sense of their dignity and they don’t allow others to demean or abuse them. Sure, we all sometimes put up with rude or unpleasant behavior because it’s not worth making a fuss. But most of the time, if someone mistreats you, it’s important to stand up for yourself and call them on it. Over time, accepting bad treatment will undermine your self-confidence, so don’t let people get away with it.

That’s my five-step plan for confidence-building. It’s hard work — certainly harder than snapping your fingers and saying “believe in yourself.” It takes time, and you’re bound to have setbacks. No one with any sense of reality feels confident all the time, because sometimes we screw up and fall short and feel lousy about what we did. But self-confidence can be your baseline — the place where you live most of the time. And it feels great.

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    Great article Gail – thanks for sharing!

    I find as my career path evolves and I begin to deal with more and more senior leaders within my own organization and also client organizations then there are naturally more difficult conversations. In these situations, I often question if I am I right? Is my position on this correct? They make a valid point, maybe I need to rethink this. Have I got it wrong?

    Your article is a great reminder to not doubt yourself and there can be more than one right answer but more importantly you should have the confidence to stand true to your beliefs. Especially if you have done your homework!