Claiming Your Identity as a Confident Business Woman
How can you claim your identity as a confident business woman and avoid this up-and-down cycle?
There is more than one dimension to developing one’s confidence. Our lifestyle choices are partially responsible; meanwhile, there are certain behaviors we can put into practice in high-intensity, high-impact situations that will settle our nerves and help us project confidence.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these dimensions.
1. LIFESTYLE CHOICES
Confident businesswomen lead with their brains; however, they know that consistently achieving peak performance is dependent on wellness in body, mind, and spirit. To bring new innovative solutions to the table, to be a compassionate leader, and to make sound decisions, a confident business woman knows that she must take good care of herself.
Exercise enhances your mood and confidence
The endorphins gained from a workout stimulate a positive emotional outlook while the increase in metabolism helps with digestion and maintaining a consistent sleep pattern. Confident business women may not depend on the muscle mass gained at the gym while in the boardroom, however, they will enjoy a spike in their confidence as they stand, sit, and speak from a position of strength.
We’ve all heard the adage, “garbage in, garbage out”. Confident business women know that they need to make quality food choices in order to have the mental stamina necessary to think clearly, particularly in seasons where it is necessary to keep long hours. Start your day with a balanced meal and make sure you are always satisfied, not stuffed, before starting a meeting. Your body and mind are programmed to keep you alive, first and foremost; it’s difficult if not impossible to thrive in your career if your system is bogged down by junk.
Curing a lack of sleep by “making up for it on the weekend” is not a wise long-term strategy for life as an executive. What worked for three years in business school or law school is not sustainable for the next 30 or 40 years of your career. Set a consistent bedtime for yourself, then schedule your day backwards so that your productivity expectations are in alignment with your need for sleep. Decision making falters, irritability ramps up, and distractions become a way of life when we are sleep deprived. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis is critical to being a confident business woman.
Affirmations & mindfulness
Have you noticed the stories you consistently tell yourself about who you are? Perhaps you want to believe you are worthy of a promotion, but you have developed a habit of downsizing your dreams and settling more often than you recognize. If you allow limiting beliefs about who you are and what you are capable of to occupy your headspace, you will never reach your full potential. Instead, switch the mental script.
Ditch the guilt
It’s easy to allow ourselves to fall into a “should” spiral. We can obsess about what we should do or should have done, or what others should do to move the organization forward. Confident businesswomen do not waste time on guilt, shame, regret, and judgment. These behaviors elicit negative energy and distractions that impede progress. Be mindful of talk tracks, whether silent or spoken, that include the word “should”.
Change your story
There are times when we must sacrifice, there are times when we choose to sacrifice, and there are times when we settle. Without paying close attention, what was a one-time sacrifice can become our modus operandi. We may have sacrificed a career opportunity so we could start our family … ten years ago. What was once a sacrifice has become our new normal and, what’s worse, we no longer believe we’re capable of what we once thought was easy. To become a confident business woman, change the narrative you are telling yourself about who you are and what you are capable of.
Be mindful of any upper limit problems
Our upper limit is our perception of the place where our capabilities end; it’s our perception of our own glass ceiling. When we hit what we perceive to be our upper limit, we think, “Well, this is as good as it gets. I don’t need to push myself anymore (because I am scared and I don’t know what would happen if I did!).” Confident business women welcome this stage because they know that it means that they have reached one level of success (cheers!) and that now it’s time to level up and see what else is out there.
Surround yourself with smart, positive people
You have heard it said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Take stock of who you are texting, emailing, calling, and hanging out with.
If any one of the top five people on your list is a drain on your energy or positivity, consider that a 20% loss in productivity. Two people? 40%. And so on.
Confident business women value their time and, as such, place tremendous value on their energy. If a relationship is draining, it must be resolved or the time allocated for it drastically reduced.
Work with a mentor
If you’re ready to make some changes but downsizing or re-categorizing relationships feels overwhelming, seek guidance or support from a mentor or coach. It can be done with compassion – for you and for others.
Build a success team
Tell trusted friends about your ambitions to level up and ask for their support. It’s possible you may be a “first” (first woman in a leadership position, e.g.) or an “only” (only woman at the table, e.g.); you will need this group of friends to share your experience with and to counteract any feelings of isolation or loneliness.
Expand your circle
Confident business women know that their net worth is a reflection of their network. At business functions, they play the role of the hostess (whether they are or not), making others feel welcome and shoring up relationships. A strong network is critical to elevating one’s position; successful business women derive confidence from their networks.
Step outside your comfort zone
Confident business women know that growth does not happen in a vacuum; rather, confidence is earned by overcoming fears and pushing through uncertainty. Confidence is not theoretical or academic; confidence is the reward for taking risks.
Do what scares you
If you haven’t taken a risk in a while and you don’t know where to start, give some thought to something that scares you. Whether inside the workplace or not, start with a calculated risk. The momentum you gain from this first step will propel you forward. Confident women are not fearless; they are fearful and move forward anyway.
Every successful person is standing on a mountaintop of failures. If you haven’t failed recently, you may not be trying hard enough or pushing yourself far enough. Risk rejection and see what you learn about yourself in the process. How did things turn out? Would you do it again?
Expand on what you know
Confident women are not know-it-alls; rather, they know where their shortcomings are and proactively seek out resources to shore up any knowledge gaps.
Broaden your knowledge & hone your skills by taking courses and seminars
Exposure to topics both within and beyond the limits of one’s industry and profession can go a long way towards broadening one’s perspective and bringing forth creative solutions to problems. A business woman who is well-versed on a variety of approaches can speak more confidently in advocating her own opinions.
Read books on developing courage and confidence
Stories captivate and inspire us – I profiled three women whose stories fueled my fire in this blog post.
Take stock of who you are
Confident women know themselves well. Consider: what is most important to you? Where do you spend your time? Your money? What are your goals and what is your plan to reach them? Knowing yourself well frees up space in your mind for you to problem-solve other matters.
If you are typically lighthearted, bring that into the boardroom. If you are serious by nature, bring that into the boardroom. We are multidimensional and complex human beings; there is no need to leave our unique personality at the door. When we bring the full tapestry of ourselves and our personalities to bear, we create the opportunity to be memorable.
Knowing your shortcomings is enlightening; admitting your shortcomings is humbling and endearing. When you are honest about your areas of weakness, you stand to gain both trust and support. Others will be more apt to help you improve on your weaknesses, or to support your weaknesses with their talents, if you are honest with yourself and others about what they are.
“Good is the enemy of great” vs. “Done is better than perfect.” Where do you stand? Confident business women are not afraid of failure; rather, they know that to have a chance at success, you have to get off the finish line. Understand the symptoms of impostor syndrome so you can hold yourself accountable.
2. SITUATIONAL CHOICES
How you act – your body language
Your stance, your movements about the room, your facial expression – all communicate signals to your brain, not just to others, about how comfortable you are in your skin. Train your body to assume a confident posture and your brain will reward you with confidence.
Take up space
As girls, society teaches us to be small; as business women, it is imperative that we take up space. Think about it: do you feel more powerful when you are in a meek & mild submissive posture (legs crossed at the knee, bodyweight on one hip, shoulders hunched, elbows and hands together in your lap) or when you assume a “power pose”, owning all of the space around you? If you said the latter, you’re right.
While a Harvard Business School professor and researcher in 2012 and thereafter in 2018, Amy Cuddy published a study indicating that how we hold our bodies impacts our minds. Her TED Talk on the subject has been viewed more than 42 million times.
When we pull up to the table, feet planted firmly in front of us, arms on the table in an open posture (not crossed), we indicate to ourselves and others that we are ready to receive communication. When standing, plant your feet shoulder-distance apart and use your hands and arms in a controlled but expansive manner.
Smiling activates feel-good neurotransmitters– dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin- that relax your body, lower your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure.
What’s more, smiling relaxes you AND the other person. People nonconsciously and automatically mimic their companion’s fleeting expressions of emotion; i.e., smiling is contagious, and so is the positive emotion associated with it.
Improve your posture
Whether seated or standing, hold your shoulders back and chest high.
When walking, keep your chin up. You know where your feet are and they will do what you ask them to do – there is no need to stare at them. Keep your eyes up so you can meet the gaze of others around you. Maintaining eye contact is key to building trust; you cannot meet someone’s eye while staring at the ground.
How you look – your outfit
For better or for worse, the clothes we wear informs our opinions of ourselves. We have been trained to learn about others in our environment based on what we see, which includes noticing people’s attire; similarly, when we make choices about our own attire, we are making choices about how we want to feel and how we want to be perceived by others. If we want to feel confident and to be perceived as being confident, we need to dress the part.
Wear your social armor (enclothed cognition)
Enclothed cognition is the intersection between what people think about what we wear and how we feel about what we wear. When we wear clothes that enable us to assume a posture of confidence, others are more likely to perceive us as confident. Sometimes, this means wearing clothes traditional to the setting (i.e., a black suit for an interview or a dress to a wedding); other times, this means taking a risk (adding more color to interview attire; wearing a dressy romper to a wedding).
If this is an area that feels overwhelming to you, here are some of the basics:
- Dark colors signify seriousness (interviews, funerals) while light colors brighten the mood and add personality (surprise parties, after-hours drinks)
- Crisp textiles are best for formal occasions (business meetings, weddings) while knits are more suitable for networking events like coffee or Zoom meetings
- A little bit of personality is fine; a lot of personality can be off-putting. When it comes to attire, consider one statement piece per outfit – for instance, statement earrings OR bold shoes with a monochrome look (but not both).
Prepare, Polish, Poise
Prepare your look in advance, polish shoes/earrings/nails if necessary, and demonstrate poise in your demeanor.
How You Sound – Your Voice
While in-person and some virtual meeting platforms allow us to lead with our physical appearance, a certain percentage of business is conducted via conference call. Coming off as confident or meek on a call has everything to do with your vocal delivery.
Increase your volume
People need to be able to hear you, plain and simple. If you are confident in your material, your opinions, and yourself, you will speak up and be heard. When we speak at a barely audible volume, the listener hears only one thing: weakness.
Slow down your speech
Exhibit confidence in yourself by taking adequate time to get your point across. Rushing through your statement tells the listener that you are uncertain; owning the time you have by presenting an organized statement communicates certainty.
Eliminate the “upswing” by pushing your intonation down at the end of your sentence
- If you take nothing else from this article, take this: eliminate, now and forever more, the vocal upswing at the end of a sentence that is NOT a question. There is nothing that will undermine others’ confidence in you faster than when they hear a question mark at the end of every sentence you state.
- Not sure what I’m referring to? Consider this statement:
- Now, consider the same statement with a vocal upswing at the end. I have demonstrated this via the liberal use of punctuation.
- “The data shows that subjects in Group A were more confident.”
- “The data shows that subjects in Group A were more … confident?”
- The upswing at the end of the sentence conveys uncertainty and inconclusive findings, whereas the content of the sentence is certain and conclusive. This audible misalignment confuses the listener.
What you say
Ask for what you want
- Society has taught us to be satisfied with what we have, to not ask for more, to not be demanding. We have to un-learn these lies. People get what they want because they ask for it – period. Whether they are asking someone in a position of power, God, or themselves, the first step is recognizing what you want and asking for it.
- Confident business women know that asking for what they want is the first step towards getting what they want.
- “The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself.” (Glennon Doyle)
- Sometimes, we ruminate over the reason why we are saying “no”. We believe we owe others an explanation, but we don’t. If something doesn’t feel right to you, say “no”, and leave it at that.
Own your worth
- Imagine that a friend tells you that she is going to ask for a raise. Do you tell her, “Do you really think you’re worth more? Are you sure? You have all of these faults and shortcomings…” No! You tell her, “Go for it! You are worth every penny.” Adopt the same self-talk that you typically reserve for others for yourself. The first person who has to believe in your worth is yourself.
Never apologize for your opinion
- You are the sum of your collective life experiences; there is no need to apologize for the opinion that your life has informed. Your life, your experiences, and your opinion all have tremendous value; lead with them.
Know when to push back
- Confident business women know that relationships are long-term and that trust is built over time. Respect is earned when we stand our ground on topics that are important to us. When we know ourselves and the subject matter at hand, we know when it is necessary to push back.