C Is For Confidence: Beginning To Unpack GRACE In The Workplace

Grit. Resilience. Authenticity. Confidence. Emotional Intelligence. These are the five magic words that, when applied to your career, provide the formula for your success. Acronymically, they are the foundation of DRIVEN’s brand-new, trademarked signature series GRACE In The WorkplaceTM. And the time has finally arrived to dive in and explore GRACE at its very core.

Since each component of GRACE builds upon another to strengthen the person as a whole, I needed to be strategic in choosing where to begin our exploration. I’ve settled upon Confidence— a trait which happens to be partly genetic, much like differences between men and women. And as you will soon see, those differences should be embraced and leveraged in a positive way in your work environment.

The Key To Confidence

“Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt”, says Katty Kay, co-author of The Confidence Code. Such doubt and second guessing can join the ranks with uncertainty and worrying about what other people might think: It all whittles away at our Confidence. To appear confident, you must appear certain of your decisions and of yourself. You can fake it some of the time, but you shouldn’t lose momentum in building your self-assurance foundation. Trying to fake it all of the time is similar to getting by on lousy sleep: a few nights are okay, but an extended period will affect your output and whittle away at your health (besides increasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes). Furthermore, lack of confidence feeds on itself in a vicious cycle; the more often we feel unsure, the more unsure we become. On the bright side, the opposite is true as well, as we can intentionally build our confidence. And over the long run, confidence resonates more deeply than competence in the business setting.

Embrace The Science

First, let’s acknowledge there are legitimate differences in our human wiring from person to person. Different confidence levels are actually embedded in our DNA. Depending on the study you read, confidence is anywhere between 25% and 50% inherited (The higher figure is according to the findings of behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin, as indicated by Kay and Shipman in The Confidence Code). To understand the brain chemistry implications behind this statistic, consider confidence and anxiety as opposites. Anxiety, which is the fear of a negative outcome, is associated with the release of the protective hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These “instant coats of armor” have historically kept us out of harm’s way, providing the fight/flight/freeze reflexes. The perpetual drip of these catabolic neurotransmitters results in health threats, while the opposite is true of the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which are released when you feel confident. Each affects our emotions, and emotions are “the captains of our lives”, put famously by Vincent Van Gogh.

Our level of confidence not only affects our health, but it affects how we show up in business. The social energy we give off is truly palpable. Think about a task or activity you typically perform well. Then imagine a past experience where you “nailed it”. Now examine how that feeling manifests itself in your body. Are you sitting up a bit straighter? Are you smiling a grin of accomplishment? Do you sense a lightness in your being? Now flash to a time where you were embarrassed by your performance. Are your shoulders slumping? This is the feeling of shame and embarrassment triggering you to make yourself smaller and invisible.

In either scenario, if you’re feeling it, people are picking up on it. With this insight, I bet you’re not shocked to read that confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you show up, if you’re not well-received, your anxiety becomes heightened. We are social beings after all, and the goal is to be accepted. This need to connect and to choose belonging over safety is more powerful a force than any other in the universe.

Stand Tall

Here’s some good news that will have you sitting up straighter: We are NOT helpless in anxious business situations. We each have a proactive say in how we show up. We can direct our brain to release more of the empowering hormones and less of the cortisol to physically make ourselves more confident (Remember Amy Cuddy’s famous TED Talk about faking it ‘till you make it?). Here’s how to make it happen: Before a high stakes meeting, or when you’re not feeling at the top of your game, resist the urge to text a friend for comfort. As Amy Cuddy reveals, the slouching position displayed when you’re huddled over your smart phone produces cortisol. Assume the Power Pose instead, and feel the oxytocin begin to flow. This technique only scratches the surface of confidence-building from a brain science perspective! Before long, you’ll be “defying nature” by correcting for your DNA. But don’t get too far ahead of yourself; differences in confidence are not entirely entrenched in brain science. My next article will shed light on how society affects the confidence of women specifically.