How to be a Confident Woman in Meetings starts with one key thing - getting your timing right when you contribute.
Read to the end and I’ll also share how the perfectionist in you, will only get in your way.
I gave this tip about timing to a senior associate at a law firm and within just a few weeks people were commenting on she was holding herself like a ‘Partner’ - which worked out for her as 6 months later, she was invited to Partnership!
She went from clamming up in meetings to feeling so much confidence that she often was asked for advice by the junior associates who now saw her as someone to emulate.
First - let’s start with a secret.
The key thing to realise, about how to get more confident in meetings...
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect comment’. Perfection lies in the eye of the beholder, what you say versus what they are expecting you to say.
So just say something.
You will never have a message that’s perfect for everyone in the room, so don’t wait before presenting.
My tip for more confidence is to speak up EARLY in a meeting to reduce any pressure you feel to contribute the ‘perfect comment’ before the meeting ends.
So I’m about to get scientific on you. Researchers found that in looking at discussion groups of men and women, women regulated how much they spoke, taking up less time largely to not appear dominating. I can see this in my work, where women do a subconscious mental calculation in meetings. The assumption is that ‘if there are five people in this meeting, I shouldn’t speak more than 20% of the time’.
They’re then completely surprised or annoyed when someone else ‘takes up’ half the time, particularly if it adds nothing of substance - or is another woman who they expect should know the rules.
When I was writing ‘The Con Job’, Sasha Mooney, a Barrister at Law, also saw a difference in how women displayed their competence differently even in the first few minutes of a meeting. She told me:
“Women will have heads down taking notes. I’ve done this too, so know they want to ask well-considered questions with the facts recorded to make their case. Men are more likely to pipe up as and when thoughts occur to them, interrupting when they see fit. You can almost see them thinking things through as they’re talking.”
In my experience, most women do most of their thinking before speaking. Mooney’s advice? ‘Put your pencil down and start making points or asking questions in the first 10 minutes of a meeting. Waiting until you have it all figured out is too late!’
This challenge totally resonates for many of the women I coach. In my experience, non-status quo members (you can find out more in the book) assume crucial decisions will be made at the end of the meeting. Not surprisingly, they leave confused or frustrated if it seems the decision was already made, maybe even before the meeting started. So get your points in early, because waiting for the ‘perfect and most insightful of comments’ won’t serve you.
In fact, when observing these meetings, those who are ‘in the know’ can resent these ‘difficult’ people for asking detailed questions later on the day. To the status quo, the results were already decided either ahead of time or in the first few minutes, because they read the room and could predict the outcome.
This topic is EXACTLY why I’ve written my third book - The Con Job!
Which is about how we need to stop assuming the outwardly very confident are the ones who should be making all the decisions - instead we need to better value those with skills, relevant experiences and competencies.
Keep up to date with the activity around the book by following #morecompetence on Twitter and Instagram.
Share it with your friends and colleagues too - you won’t be the only one feeling this way.
How to show you are Confident Woman on your CV comes down to clarifying your monetary value to your next boss.
If you read to the end I’ll also share how even if you are on the charmingly called ‘cost-centre’ side of a business, this too can work for you.
Today we’re talking LESS about confidence that looks like show pony antics like claiming ALL the credit for group projects.
Instead we’re talking about confidence related to your COMPETENCE.
Identify the type, number and monetary value of the tangible projects you delivered.
So this tip is about how to talk about your numbers. We normally spend so much time perfecting the words on our CV or resume, we forget that it’s the numbers most employers will be drawn to. Start by identifying the monetary value of the tangible projects you’ve delivered. I know most projects are indeed team projects and that you alone are not solely responsible for bringing in all that money, but this is a step too many people forget. Yet, simply saying in interviews, ‘I was part of a 4 person team that oversaw a client sheet worth £4.5M goes a lot further than simply writing something wishy washy like ‘Served clients to the best of my ability.’
That second sentence gives no context, but that first short sentence says both how big the team was and how much your contracts were worth. Think money. I’ve had clients in academia and the 3rd sector talk about the value of grants they’ve won, or in the corporate sector, talk about the way they’ve served the sales team, which gave them the tools to bring in another 200,000k in revenue. Or perhaps you work in an area that oversees spend, talk about how big your budgets have been. Everyone's work has value, think widely about how to tie yours to a monetary value for your organisation.
Okay, so this is a two part tip and if you aren’t part of a team that sells or has an easily identifiable, yet quantifiable metric, that doesn’t mean this tip can’t work for you too.
There are just two ways we can count when talking about money;
This sounds trickier than it is. However, there are also ways to quantify your results if you are on this side of the coin. So for example, if you’ve been able to trim budgets or find better, but more cost-effective vendors - that too is a metric when compared to what the company used to spend.
Alternatively, you can also talk about potential costly issues you’ve helped them avoid. I had a male client who worked in risk, and he wasn't exactly sure how to quantify monetarily his work. He was brought in after an accident to tighten the ship.
So we worked backwards, thinking of what it may have cost the company if they hadn’t hired him to avoid those kinds of incidents. We worked to a relatively simple metric of the clean up costs, and in his interview for a promotion, he explained how he’s worked out that value but then was also able to say ‘And 800K savings is before you count the time it took other people off their own projects to work on a fix or any reputational damage. Clearly, my team is just part of the solution but I’d estimate the true number would have been even higher if we had any more of those types of accidents this year.’
This meant his competence shone and he wasn’t just asking for a promotion willy-nilly. And given his name was William, that probably is the right euphemism!
Competence is what we should really be valuing.
However… in the majority of the workplaces I’ve EVER visited….
Confidence (the show pony kind) is valued far too much! And the competent people (like you!) are being overlooked!
This is EXACTLY why I’ve written my third book - The Con Job!
My mission for the book is to change the way we value people.
Let me know if this resonated and keep up to date with the activity around the book by following #morecompetence on Twitter and Instagram.
If you don’t have an uber confident style, and you don’t want to have to develop one just to get ahead, this is the video for you. By the end you’ll know how to OWN your quiet confidence.
So here’s two tips on how to make the most of your quiet confidence and how to capitalise on them in the workplace today.
1. In new situations, overprepare.
You need to let your expertise do the talking, and often, that means overpreparing.
If you are anything like me, you may have noticed that the ‘smartest person in the room’ is not the smartest ‒ they’re just the best prepared. They’ve likely thought through at least two things:
First: what they want to get out of the meeting.
Second: how others will react in that meeting.
Make it clear you’ve thought through these things via your comments and questions. Include things like:
Derek Watson, who is the Quaestor and Factor (pretty much the COO) at the University of St. Andrew’s had an interesting observation on this one.
For Watson, taking feedback on as part of quiet confidence, is one of the most critical competencies those who want to be ‘promotion-worthy’ must demonstrate. As Watson told me:
Addressing their concerns publicly will allow you to say you’ve them taken on board. Plus, it gives naysayers further evidence you want to collaborate with them.
2. Manage your projects in a way that works for your more quiet style.
This means if a project has always been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean it has to always be done that way. In fact, the quickest way that a business will fail - is if they continue to say things like ‘we’ve always done it this way’.
Alejandra Corona, who interviewed for the book told a really interesting story about this. Corona is a Marketing Executive based in Mexico City, now at Amazon, but who has spent over 20 years of her career working across for global companies in FMCG and Financial Services. She told me about where she grew her competence, and then confidence, only by understanding what had gone wrong with a critical project.
Corona told me: ‘When I began leading my area of the business - ‘baby care’, our nappies had slowly lost market share over several years. It was more of a slow ‘boiling of the frog’, so no one before me was particularly worried. Then one day, we lost our biggest market - Argentina.
She sighs remembering: Overnight any brash confidence went out the door, and with no explanation as to what we’d done wrong. We’d been following the standard practices set out by global HQ for marketing, based on what had worked in other markets. It made everyone doubt themselves, wondering ‘how could this happen when we were doing everything ‘right’. She described to me how the turnaround only came from taking a more quiet approach, and not listening to what HQ said needed to be done, but back to their customers.
She said ‘Our nappies were working for the rest of the world, but we discovered our entire Latin American market of new parents thought our lining felt too much like plastic. To them, it was like putting their newborn in a rubbish sack! Immediately, we saw a million things we were getting wrong and made immediate changes. The self-doubt we felt, made us look harder for the right answers, even if they weren’t the right answers for other regions. The turn-around was amazing and within three years, we crossed the 1 billion mark for sales and we’d regained the top market share across our main markets.
So the tip around this is to ensure that you use your quietly confident style to challenge the status quo, in this case HQ protocol, earlier, by using evidence. One thing you might say is: ‘I notice we’re not getting the results we’d normally expect, I’d like to try X’ or if you have a dubious colleague, turn it back on them by asking: ‘What do you think we’re missing as I’m concerned about the costs of not addressing this early enough.’
Now, the best superpower for the quietly confident? It’s other people’s underestimations of you!
Think about how people’s underestimations of you actually work in your favour? Now, turn that into your superpower!
Thanks for reading! You can get involved with our activity around the book by following #morecompetence on Twitter and Instagram.
Please share it with your friends and colleagues too - it’s the only way we can make the biggest impact.
The truth is, under-confidence, as unorthodox as it sounds, can have real benefits. And I’m going to tell you exactly what they are and why you shouldn’t feel ashamed about being under confident.
It’s actually a huge superpower, and astonishingly could end up making your career more than you ever thought possible.
The unconfident are often the hardest workers, as they don’t assume they have all the right answers. And you know what? Neither do the very confident! Which means under-confidence can be a secret weapon against those already so sure of themselves that they’re the most likely to make mistakes.
1. The first way under-confidence can benefit your career is that it makes you among the most likely to see potential problems and know you need to foresee alternative options. Derek Watson is the second most senior person at the University of St. Andrews, the COO, if you like. When I interviewed him for my third book ‘The Con Job’ he made a great point about how he often gets advice from more junior people when he doesn’t understand something. These are people who don’t come across as ultra confident, but they’re people he’ll advocate for - which is a big win for anyone. He explained: They’re the ones I can approach when I need the detail on something I don’t quite understand. I'll ask: ‘I’m getting some figures that don’t make sense to me. Can we have a quick chat?’ Alternatively, I might say: ‘A mistake was made that I can’t get my head around. Can you help me understand how this could have happened? These people, while often in the lower rungs, are like gold dust to me. They know their stuff so bloom when I ask their opinion. They can spot if a process wasn’t followed or an error was made much better than I can. It can be intimidating as what I’m asking may be ‘above their paygrade’, as I’ve been told. But they want to make a difference; often because they’ll be the ones who either take the blame or clean up the mess if something goes wrong.
If you are the type of person who Derek is talking about, try to find time with senior people to tell them about interesting and new things you’re noticing, people like Derek are so far from the detail that it can be refreshing to hear someone who has their ear to the ground. If you aren’t sure how something will go down, ask their opinion about something you’ve noticed and how they’d handle it if they were in your shoes. As Derek’s comment illustrates, taking this approach means you could become someone that others seek out when they want to know ‘the real deal’ on something.
2. The second way underconfidence can build your career is by turning you into a great listener. If you can master the art of truly listening, that is not simply waiting for the other person’s lips to stop moving before you bring in your own witty anecdote, you can actually go pretty far. For one woman I interviewed for my book Barbara Ann King, that gift of listening went as far as setting up a very successful team within a major UK bank.
As a former MD within Private Banking at Barclays, listening to her clients was how King knew to set up the dedicated Female Client Group team. She noticed an increasing number of clients were asking ‘Why do I never get to speak with a woman about my investments?’ King knew that by the time clients are complaining, you’ve missed a trick. However, listening to how clients talk about these qualities is not something she thinks many industries do particularly well. She focuses on one of the most useful, but least exciting ways to describe a competent team member. In our interview she told me: ‘When you talk to clients, they will tell you they want the “safe pair of hands” managing their money. That makes sense as it’s their money we’re talking about! They’ll quickly see through a presentation that “wows” if it can’t deliver.’
It was those listening skills that made King set up the Female client group team. King got the buy-in from the CEO to create the team that went on to perform 300% better on new client acquisition than other divisions with the same business. Pretty impressive stuff and a move that still sets her career apart across the industry, even all these years later.
So this tip is to get better at simply asking questions, listening without interrupting or assuming you know where the conversation is headed. It’s actually pretty hard, but what you’ll learn can set your career apart.
3. Seek out new training:
The third way underconfidence can benefit your career is that it makes you more likely to seek out continuous self-improvement and show greater empathy. There’s an HR joke from the people who have often hired me, that the type of people most likely to need soft skills training or indeed could benefit the most from coaching, are often the least likely to seek it out. Remember, the confident don’t think they need any help - which no one buys. Instead, by seeking out ways you can grow your competency level, you’ll only be illustrating to others that you know no one’s perfect, and that we can all get better at what we do. And that’s the kind of person most employers would be wise to promote.
So that’s how you can make the most of your under confidence, and turn it into real benefits when your colleagues, and particularly senior people like the ones I mentioned here, start to realise how great you really are.
If you want to develop your career faster, my third book 'The Con Job' is written for you. I’ve discovered many people are far more confident than we give them credit for. They are entirely competent yet haven’t had enough exposure to give them the confidence they need.
In a society where we rate CONFIDENCE so highly, these competent people sometimes struggle to thrive, and are overtaken by their over-confident but less competent colleagues).
The environment where you work, can have a MASSIVE impact on your confidence.
Today, we’re going to look at how to build confidence at work by looking at your surroundings in 3 different ways. This WILL advance your career by getting you to think about how each setting affects your confidence differently every day. And if you stay to the end, you’ll hear how a new multi-million pound state of the art building I visited got it so wrong in one simple aspect of their layout, and how an easy £10 fix could have remedied the whole thing.
As a speaker and someone who’s done over 2500 hours of executive coaching with my clients, I have talked with thousands of professional women. Interestingly, the environment in which these women work comes up time and time again and the most successful ones get the way it affects them, like I know you will.
So today we’re going to talk about 3 different environments in which you may work, and our expectations in manoeuvring through those settings in different ways. These places, will surprisingly, all shed light on how much confidence you may feel in your current role.
You may be like many of my clients in that you originally think a lack of confidence is a personal failing, but it isn’t - yet ‘lacking confidence’ is often blamed for someone not getting ahead - but in doing so, we often ignore the context of where they work. Instead of leaders blaming someone for being under-confident or not ambitious enough, leaders should be asking:
‘what is it in our system, our company culture and as we’re addressing here, even our physical environment that means that person feels like an outsider, a fraud, an imposter - someone who may not progress here?’
1. So let’s start with the widest of the physical environments you are expected to traverse to get ahead - and that includes any meetings you need to attend outside of your office. For example, many of my clients work long hours either in their own or in client’s offices. If this is you, does your employer offer free taxi service for people to use after hours, or hotel stays if you are expected to work late?
What are your employer’s expectations around this and how does that affect your confidence?
For example, do you need to travel at the weekend in order to be in the far-flung office bright and early on Monday morning or attend conferences that straddle weekends? This is a big one, particularly for parents, carers or those with disabilities, for example. However, the importance of accessibility goes beyond the basics of having wheelchair access for a client’s office or a loop for the hearing impaired.
It’s also down to the expectations employees are judged by. This came out when I interviewed Toby Mildon for ‘The Con Job’. Toby is a D&I professional, and author of ‘Inclusive Growth’. He’s also a quadriplegic. In our interview he talked me through how ‘travelling for meetings’ is a physical expectation of most jobs he’s had, but can be pretty exhausting. He said to me: ‘If two people go on a train journey, the person who has a physical disability is going to find every aspect much harder. They have to get through turnstiles, get a ramp on board, make sure the accessible toilets are nearby and indeed working ‒ all before they even get to the station.
All of this puts an additional mental load on them. There is just so much more to think about at every stage, not to mention more strangers to rely upon.’ So in terms of your own confidence at work, particularly if you travel for your job, the tip here is to have discussions with your colleagues and employers, not just about your desk, your office, or even your building but all the other places you are expected to visit. This is important for all of us.
Ask a question like ‘What are the assumptions about things like safety, transport, accessibility, weekend working, travel time, even childcare provision that we’re making when we send people to work in these other locations? These can be great opportunities, so don’t get me wrong, but write down a list of all the ways you think your boss would answer this question, and if you can live with those answers.
Before then talking to your boss, check out your assumptions with other colleagues who have also travelled for work to see how accurate your assumptions actually are. Get their advice on how they made travelling for work, actually work for them.
Their answers may surprise you, or give you the inspiration/ammunition you need when talking to your boss, which will build your confidence at work, before you go into that conversation.
2. So moving onto a setting a bit closer to home, and that’s the office buildings and the surrounding environment. This might even be the campus on which you work, and how well it’s set up for people like you. I recall working with Janet a client from a few years ago, who was confident in herself, but not confident in her employer- which is a big distinction people don’t talk enough about. In a coaching session, she shared what she initially saw as a small annoyance, but is a reality for employees, and in my experience, particularly problematic for working women.
Janet told me ‘I’m expected to work late, and don’t actually mind it as it enables me to get my kids off to school in the morning. What bothers me is that it’s always dark when I leave, and when I asked my boss why the car park wasn’t lit, he said it was expensive and wasn’t a priority as none of the guys I worked with had ever asked.’
For Janet, this was more annoying after her boss then installed a vintage videogame machine in the office, another big expense. His rationale was that he wanted to make the office homely and inviting, but for her boss, homely and inviting didn’t extend to a lit car park. When we faced this challenge (but before the video game machine), I advised her to tell her boss how a lit car park would keep everyone safer, and might even attract more women to the company, something they ostensibly cared about.
She spoke with her boss, and the conversation was illuminating. His response showed what a low priority safety was for him, and it signalled to her that he’d probably never listen to her as much as others, which meant her confidence would never flourish there. And that’s a surprising point worth remembering, these conversations don’t always have to go your way to be really valuable.
In fact, her boss’s reaction or lack thereof, became part of the impetus for her to go. Janet left about six months later, and while it wasn’t the main reason she left, this environmental issue played a part. Janet’s story is quite common, and it would be great for others in the community to know that they’re not alone.
3. The third tip around your environment is to look at what the layout of the building itself and maybe even your office specifically, says about who succeeds here. We all know stories of uncommunicative senior people that are not helped by having their offices on the loftiest floors or how open plan offices can be distracting for introverts but there are often other hints around an office as to the expectations of who will succeed.
A few years ago, I got a tour of some swanky new offices of a European client’s before anyone had moved in. On the tour, they talked about how they had future proofed the building for security, connectivity and all other possible eventualities. We took in the views from the new CEO’s office but in doing so noticed that on the door of the CEO’s private toilet was the ubiquitous men’s toilet sign.
Clearly, the designers had thought to future-proof the building, but in making this small choice, they had sent the subconscious message that they were future proofing against the expectation they’d ever have a female CEO! Now obviously, a £10 door sign change would have been all it took, perhaps one removing gender completely, but their choice sent a message as to who they expected to literally and figuratively, be sitting on that lofty throne, and who they didn’t expect to see there.
An easy tip for leaders when you are looking at taking new office space is to ask an objective outsider to take a look at the space, the environment and ask ‘Who do you think would do well here?’. Ultimately, look at your existing office environment. What does it tell you? Is it a setting in which you can see yourself progressing?
Thanks for reading, and you can go check out my Youtube videos for more!
Suzanne Doyle-Morris, Author, Speaker & Gender Balance Expert for 25+ years.
Hear what I told BBC Radio about what to do about the worsening gender pay gap data