When I was a little girl, I had a best friend who lived next door. Her name was Felicia and we were born four days apart. She’s older, if you must know. When we were first sounding out words, I called her Thwee-Thwah and she called me Kaka. We were inseparable. Different, but we loved each other just the same.
Like an old married couple, we enjoyed spending time together but we also butted heads from time to time. I remember after a rainstorm we found worms all over her driveway. I rode my bike over them to see if they’d split in half and she was so angry at my insensitivity toward living creatures that she didn’t talk to me for days.
Then there was a big snowstorm. So excited to share the season’s first sled ride, I ran to her house to see if she could come out and play. Only my boots made big 8-year-old’s tracks on her pristine lawn ruining the beauty of the untouched snow. Again, she didn’t talk to me for days. But, I still loved her.
Then we got older and high school hormones set in. She was cool and popular. I was well-liked and popular enough, but occasionally other kids picked on me unless I told her about it. She would then warn them to back off threatening not to speak to them and insinuating if they kept it up, they’d be out of the cool crowd. Felicia always had my back.
Who at your office has your back? And whose back do you have?
I recently worked with a group of patients to help them tell their stories more effectively so they can better advocate for other patients. While helping shape and craft their experiences into meaningful messages, one man who we’ll call Jack shared a sad story about how kids made fun of his medical condition and teased him as a child making him feel like an outcast.
While happy and fulfilled today, Jack’s story didn’t have a clear ending until I questioned the moral of the story. He said his life changed when he met a group of friends who liked him for him and he realized people other than his family had his back. Today, as a speaker, mentor and advocate, he empowers others by helping them understand they have the power to change the lives of people they speak to by letting them know someone has their backs.
While writing this article, I came across a quote from an unknown author that said: “A friend is one who believes in you when you have ceased to believe in yourself.”
It made me wonder how many of us let others define our perceptions of ourselves when our ideas are shot down or we don’t have the support we hoped for. Do we revert to self-doubt when it appears no one has our backs?
For example, we just finished a program designed to help people speak up at meetings. While researching why people are reluctant to jump in and share ideas, they had a host of reasons including: self-doubt, feeling threatened, afraid of being negatively perceived, lack of acceptance and inadequate time to think through responses.
But not joining the conversation or realizing the value of what you can add to a meeting can limit opportunities for advancement, rob the company of your insights and create an unintended negative impression in the work-place.
In an article posted on Forbes on line titled ‘How to Boost Your Confidence at Work,” the author acknowledges that many people who enjoy self-confidence were once plagued by fears of inadequacies whether or not these fears were born or imagined. The post goes on to say that to overcome these fears, you need to confront them head on. That means sharing your anxiety with someone you trust.
For example, if you’re worried you’ll flub a presentation, give it to a friend. Ask for candid feedback. If you struggle to interject your opinion when others are talking, ask a trusted colleague to role-play these situations with you so you’re more confident at the next meeting. The best way to develop more self-confidence is to do what you fear. I think it’s important to remember that sometimes your perceptions of yourself are incorrect.
Case in point last week. At a small group leadership communications session, a high-powered executive confided she lacked self-confidence. She told the group she doesn’t sleep for nights before an important talk, is incredibly anxious and shaky when she first starts to talk and worries that people might think she’s a fake. The room went silent. The group was stunned.
One by one they told her she comes across as confident, commanding and in total control. They said they would have never guessed she was a bundle of nerves. Then something even more interesting happened. Some of the other executives confided that they share the same insecurities and felt better knowing they weren’t alone. They agreed to get together for practice sessions.
Knowing they had each other’s backs gave them a boost of self-confidence that no amount of reading, coaching or practice could provide. They knew there would be future hurdles, but like my childhood friend, it would be easier to navigate them knowing their colleagues had their back.