From the August 2014 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

12 Ways to Build Authentic Confidence

Women have a genetic hurdle to confidence, but they can overcome it.

There are some ways women can retrain their brains to feel and act with more confidence. There are some ways women can retrain their brains to feel and act with more confidence.

“Part of women's lack of confidence is genetic, the way our brains are wired,” journalist Katty Kay told us. “Part of it is the way we’re raised. But a lot of it is what we do to ourselves—and that's something we can change.” In “The Confidence Code,” Kay and co-author Claire Shipman help readers understand the elusive quality of confidence and learn how to bring more of it into their lives. Among their suggestions:

  1. Don't keep tinkering with things to make them perfect. It's often better to make a decision with the available information so you can keep moving forward. Sometimes you may be wrong, but by “failing fast,” you’ll cut the time spent going down blind alleys.

  2. Get outside your comfort zone. Try something you thought you’d never be good at: public speaking, coaching kids’ soccer, understanding Keynesian economics. What doesn't kill you will make you stronger.

  3. Be willing to be different. Women often try too hard to please everyone. Michael Nannes, chairman of national law firm Dickstein Shapiro, advised that a woman in the midst of a male-dominated conversation should “speak with authority” and “make a point of having a different point of view.”

  4. Don't automatically blame yourself for setbacks. “Internal attribution” of blame can keep you stewing endlessly over a mishap. “External attribution,” favored by most men, shifts more of the responsibility to forces beyond your control, allowing you to let go and move on.

  5. Take credit for what you’ve achieved. Instead of modestly brushing off a compliment, accept it and let it give you confidence for the next step.

  6. Handle criticism by mentally converting it to a comment you can use. For example, you could respond to a negative comment that your presentation went on too long by saying, “Thank you. Next time I won't try to cover so many bases at once.”

  7. Kill negative automatic thoughts. Kay and Shipman suggest swatting this crippling self-talk (“I’m not valuable enough for the boss to give me a raise”) by writing it down as it occurs, then throwing the paper away.

  8. Shy about putting yourself forward? Think “we” instead of “me.” This can work well for women who hate to deliver a talk or even speak up in a meeting. Envision yourself as the representative of your entire team or a group of people like yourself, and speak on their behalf.

  9. Keep your bosses posted on your achievements. It's very possible that they’re too busy to notice the terrific job you’re doing. If you want a raise or more responsibility, step up and make the case for it. Nobody else will toot your horn if you don't.

  10. Banish “upspeak.” That's when you talk like this? Because you don't want to offend or antagonize anyone? The late Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, used to tell students, “Say it with confidence, because if you don't sound confident, why will anyone believe what you say?”

  11. Accept that you aren't perfect. It's exhausting—and impossible—to pretend to be infallible. But take care not to put down your own abilities (“I’m so disorganized” or “Oh, somehow I scraped my way through Yale.”).

  12. Be yourself. Trust your instincts. Use your innate ability to build connections and consensus, but don't be intimidated out of something you believe in.

As Shipman and Kay conclude: “Think less. Take action. Be authentic.”

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