Confidence in pressured situations is a tricksy beast. But getting to know your inner critic and how they tick can be the secret to a confident future.
Being confident in pressured situations and managing the personal aftermath of those situations isn’t easy. You know what I’m taking about: the row where you’ve asserted yourself, but the minute you’re alone you crumble into a vulnerable, soggy mess; or the public speaking stint when as soon as it’s over you realise you’re shaking like a leaf.
I work with a number of clients on confidence and assertiveness and I’m very happy to say that I’ve helped clients ask for (and get) that pay rise, speak up in that meeting, stand up to that bullying friend and handle the pressure in a more controlled way. And you know what: their lives, happiness and how they deal with these situations are all the better for it.
Brits don’t tend to be naturally confident and assertive, because from an early age we’ve been taught that compliancy is the socially acceptable thing to do – just look at our queuing habits and how we say sorry when someone walks into us. There’s a tendency to think people who are very confident are crass, which isn’t true. Try not to confuse confidence with dominance.
Being confident and assertive in public and in private is all about control. Controlling your situation, controlling how you are perceived and, importantly, controlling how to deal with the aftermath of pressure.
Believe in yourself
If you’re being interviewed for your dream job, you’re there for a reason and have as good a chance as anyone else at taking the prize. Sat in reception waiting to be called in but full of self-doubt and with confidence levels at rock bottom? Get out your ‘big me up’ book (which you should carry with you at all times), a notepad/journal listing all of your achievements made and compliments received. We’re brilliant at remembering the stuff we royally messed up, but not so good at remembering our great achievements, which is why it’s good to write them down.
Preparation is key
If you know you’re going to be in a pressured situation (be it a job interview or difficult chat with a partner/friend), be prepared. Think about every eventuality. Where could it go? What questions might be asked and how could you respond in a way that’s still integral to your values and feelings?
Anticipate other people’s objections and behaviour and prepare your responses. It will make you feel confident, calmer and you’ll come across in a more controlled way because of it. Also permit yourself time to stop and consider. There is no harm saying to your boss that you need time to think about their offer – this shows them that you are in control.
You may look like an oddjob talking to yourself but saying things out loud really helps. It moulds your tone, language and delivery and you can identify what doesn’t quite sound right or sit well.
Get a mate to do a mock interview with you, answer questions in the mirror, check your speed (we all talk faster when we’re nervous) and how you look – I get a delightful neck rash when speaking in public/thinking about James McAvoy, so polo necks are my friend. Oh, and smile. It costs nothing and people will take to you more quickly as they’ll respond to your positive vibes, man.
Know your worth
If you are in a situation of conflict or unease where you’re a lioness on the outside but a little kitten on the inside then remember your worth. You are important, people cannot take advantage of you and if they do, you are perfectly entitled to stand up to them and set your boundaries.
When natural people pleasers and the laid back among us start standing their ground, it’s common for those around them not to like them suddenly not complying with the role their partner/set of friends has always seen them in. Sod ‘em. Your true fans will encourage and admire this in you and the people that find it threatening are best lost.
Allow me to introduce Shirley. Shirley is the whining, nagging voice inside my head; my inner critic. I named her Shirley so I could yell, “Shut the fuck up, Shirley!”, “You’re a proper shit, Shirley!” and “Shirley’s a shithead!” and it would make me smile – it’s the small things.
We all have an inner critic – referred to as our NID if we’re being professional – and my god, they know how to hit us where it hurts. Shirley often tells me I’m rubbish or that I need to do my roots, which can lead me to walk at a slower pace with head stooped (showing the aforementioned roots even more) as the confidence drains out of me.
I’ve learned to shut her up by using affirmations – positive statements said in the present tense. So for example, when I’m getting ready in the morning I say things like, “I am going to stand up in that meeting and be confident today,” or “I look nice in this dress.” By repeating the affirmations, we can create new neural pathways that become our natural go-to instead of Shirley-speak – which can only be a good thing.
We’re built as fragile creatures who hurt, get offended and sometimes find it hard to be true to ourselves. But we’re also brave buggers, which is one of the best qualities we have. Quiet confidence and assertiveness is a wonderful thing. You’re ace, remember that. And, go on, say it out loud.