How to feel more confident and less overwhelmed in your job

Stepping in to a role that you didn’t necessarily sign up for when you first joined your organisation can feel like stepping in to black hole. This can feel particularly acute if one of the key things that drives you is ‘being the expert’.

Often when I work with managers in this situation, either on a one-to-one or group basis, the kinds of themes that emerge relate to lack of confidence, feeling out of one’s depth and feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed.

What got you the opportunity in the first place, your skills, attitude and general awesomeness, are things that can quickly be replaced by the good old fight, freeze or flight response driven by fear. A vicious circle can emerge where you feel like you’re not performing well enough, so you tell yourself you’re rubbish and should never have taken the role. This negative self-talk can impact your confidence, judgement and hence performance. And so the cycle begins again.

If this sounds familiar, then here are a few tactics which might help you get your mojo back:

Be compassionate to yourself

If you manage to catch yourself talking badly about you – either to yourself or even worse, to other people – first step is to stop talking. Second step is to ask yourself if you’d talk about someone close to you in the way you’re talking to and about yourself. It can help to note down at the end of each day at least one thing you achieved. It doesn’t have to be a massive thing. It can be as simple as having a coffee with a member of staff you noticed was looking down. By actively paying attention to the things you’re achieving, you’re starting to change your mindset and what you notice.

And if you think self-compassion is soft ‘n’ fluffy then think again. As Karol Wasylyshyn and Frank Masterpasqua state,

“…self-compassion may be an integral part in the development of the ability to achieve and to work effectively with others”


Understand what confidence looks like for you – now and in the future

The scaling technique is a really helpful, solution-focused approach to re-framing where you’re at. It’s particularly good for people whose confidence has taken a bit of a nosedive. Coaching clients I’ve used this with report feeling more energised, positive and hopeful.

Step one: Draw a vertical line on the left-hand side of a blank piece of paper. At the top of the line put the number 10, at the bottom put the number 1 (not zero).

Step two: Mark on the scale where you believe you are at this moment in time. From 1, which equals minimal confidence (you’re avoiding too many work situations and people, and you talk negatively to yourself nearly all the time); through to 10 which equals super-confident (you’re proactively taking on new work, opportunities and seeking out people to work with, you talk to yourself in positive terms nearly all the time). Put the date you assigned the rating next to it.

Step three: Ask yourself what you’re already doing or have in place. For example, “Okay if I’m a 3, what am I already doing to help my confidence which is stopping me be a 2, a 1, or a 0?” Even if you’re only able to write one or two things that’s fine. You should feel proud of yourself.

Step four: Then rate where, realistically, you hope to be in six month’s time. Put the date for six month’s time against the rating.

Step five: Ask yourself what steps you can take to bridge the gap. For example, you might have said you want to get to a 6 in six month’s time. What does a 6 look and feel like for you? Describing this can be a helpful way to prompt ideas on things you can do. One client I worked with came up with around half-a-dozen small steps she could take to move her to her desired rating. These ticked the three S’s of simple, specific and stretching. For example, offering to run a one-hour workshop sharing what she’d learned about the new part of her department since taking it on.


Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved


Being a manager in the 21st century is a tough gig. In a hyper-connected, always-on, doing-more-with-less world, no wonder we’re feeling more pressurised, less in control and less confident.

Carving out time and space that is just for you, where you can talk openly and work stuff through can pay dividends. Coaching is just one way you can achieve this. In a research piece written for the International Coaching Psychology Review, Ventaka Nanduri suggested that the long-term benefits of coaching included:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Sustained behavioural changes
  • Setting clear goals and actions
  • Improvement in performance
  • Better confidence and motivational ability
  • Increased self-belief
  • Positive changes in thinking

There’s also power in the group, which is why things such as action learning sets, when run well, can make such as positive difference to managers.

Having time to reflect and work things through with others can help increase your chances of success. Giada di Stefano and colleagues found this in a study where they asked volunteers to take time to pause and reflect while trying to tackle a problem. They found people were better at the task after being asked to take a moment to reflect on which strategies were working for them. This was also replicated in a call centre environment, where employees who took the time to pause and reflect did 23 percent better on a post-training test.

Remember, just as your organisation gave you the opportunity to take on your new role, they have a responsibility to ensure you have the support you need to succeed. The Harvard professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, refers to this as ‘structural empowerment’ – where people have sufficient access to information, resources, support and learning opportunities.

What kind of things have helped you increase your confidence or helped with feeling less overwhelmed? Why not share your experiences in the comments box below so that others might benefit from your advice.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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