“This May Be a Stupid Idea, but…”: How to Stop Underselling Yourself

Thursday 05 December 2019
You know you’re more than capable, but how do you make sure everyone else knows that too?

Every part of who you are and what you are, represents you: how you think and act, your interests – even the colours you wear or the music you listen to. That includes how you speak to others.

So how can you make sure you’re not subconsciously undermining your confidence and abilities? From how you stand to how many times you say ‘sorry’, here are some ways you can seem more confident and influential at work.

Stop Apologising

Amanda Augustine is a careers expert at TopCV and a certified professional career coach. She thinks there’s one particular word that’s damaging your cred at work – and you’ve probably used the word in the last half hour.

“A survey of more than 1,000 Brits found that the average person says ‘sorry’ eight times per day and one in eight people apologise up to 20 times per day,” she says. “When this little word is repeatedly used in the workplace – especially when an apology is unwarranted – it can significantly undermine your authority. Try swapping out the term ‘I’m sorry’ for ‘thank you for waiting’ or ‘thank you for your patience’. Showing gratitude, rather than remorse, will send a positive message to your colleagues without undermining your authority.”

Swap Negative for Positive

Language obviously shapes the way we communicate – but do you often think of how the words you use make others view you? Think about it: if you’re constantly complaining or being pessimistic, will people go to you for advice or will they only come to you when they need to vent about a problem? The energy you put out into the office will play a part in the energy you get in return.

For language swaps that can help to promote a positive attitude and mindset, Augustine recommends making are ‘I think’ for ‘I know’, removing ‘kind of’ or ‘just’ from your vocabulary, and avoiding filler words like ‘okay, so’ ‘right’ or ‘err…’ These soften your message and your authority – so people will read into this to mean that you’re unprepared or struggling to understand or relay the topic.

“Instead of inserting these useless words into your sentences, trying pausing instead,” Augustine recommends. “Actively deciding to say nothing at all is a better alternative than filling the space with words that aren’t adding value or meaning to your statements.”

Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Although it is polite to start and end emails with niceties and open a conversation with “hello, how are you?” It is not necessary to hedge around the topic in your communication. For example, you may find that if you’re asking someone to do you a favour, you often overuse exclamation points.

You’re not the only one that does this. It’s a way of managing the recipient’s feelings so they know you’re not being stern or angry with them – but it’s completely unnecessary. That’s not to say that you should ban the exclamation mark from your writing, but just to be wary of how many you use per email.

In face-to-face communication, we avoid tackling topics by overusing hand gestures to relay messages of uncertainty (like fidgeting with jewellery or wringing your hands) and softening our language to make us seem less serious or assertive. It makes the people we’re speaking to second guess our authority on the topic – if someone approached you sheepishly and used language like ‘I’m not entirely sure, but…’ or ‘I’m no expert…’ wouldn’t you also assume they weren’t in the know?

Stop Fidgeting

Sarah Jones launched her own business, Sarah-J Coaching, and helps her clients to find purpose and direction in their lives and careers. She recommends being mindful of your body language to ensure you’re not losing authority through fidgeting or bad habits.

“Having open body language is key,” Jones says. “Commanding authority does not have to mean appearing forceful. You can create authority by creating a culture of respect where you clearly value the feedback and questions of others as they will then listen to you too. Your authority will be respected if you are seen as smiling and being open to discussions.”

Some tricks to use are having a ‘steepling’ your hands when talking in a meeting to relay command, widening your stance and straightening your back to take up more space and relay authority, and trying not to check your watch or look at your shoes while you speak.

Be Kind to Yourself

“It is really important to work on how you talk to yourself,” says Jones. “Negative self-talk can have a very detrimental impact on your mental wellbeing and your confidence. Even those with the highest skill levels are susceptible to crippling imposter syndrome. Remember - comparison is the thief of joy! Sometimes our brains just do not let us celebrate and make the most of our successes, particularly accompanied by the common British trait of not wanting to seem boastful. However, practising positive self–talk can ensure you demonstrate to others around you the extensive skills you possess. Talk kindly and believe in yourself and your abilities – you’ll be much more likely to succeed.”

Other ways you can ensure you’re not underselling yourself is to try over-preparing for any events or meetings that make you feel nervous. By doing a deep dive into research, you can look at all eventualities (‘what if they ask me this question?’ or ‘what if this goes wrong during the presentation?’) and have all of your bases covered. Until you’ve gotten a bit more confident when presenting or networking, you can reel in the overpreparation – but it may empower you before the big event.

Interested in taking your communication skills further? Read more about how to boost them on CMI Future Leaders.