As a trainer and coach I have been lucky enough to work with assistants all over the world and recently it dawned on me that we have one very significant problem facing us as a profession. And it is not the rapid advancement of technology, job security, economic shifts or artificial intelligence. It is confidence!
As a group, assistants are generally talented, intelligent and resourceful. They can deal with high stress levels and intense demands. They manage on-going interruptions and a very high volume of information (flooding in via electronic communication) without a decline in the quality of their work.
They are creative, reliable, loyal, have higher than average emotional intelligence and are able to build strong relationships with ease. So in other words, assistants are the perfect employee for the Fourth Industrial Age. So why, oh why, are we still underrated, under-utilised and more importantly underpaid?
The only logical conclusion for me is the lack of confidence I see and feel in the assistants I meet and this is the same whether I am in the US or Uganda.
How does this manifest?
Not being able to speak up when they need to, feeling like shining a light on their performance or achievements is bragging, always focussed on making others look good (without ever getting credit) and trying desperately to blend in and not to draw any attention to themselves. They are also often thrown under the bus by other employees and feel that it is wrong for them to fight back. It is being fearful and afraid of new opportunities and losing out on grand adventures.
Confidence impacts a few important aspects of your life and your career
1.How the role is perceived in your office and the business world
A wonderful friend of mine once told me that we teach others how to treat us. So, how have we taught our peers, teams and the business to treat us? Worth pondering, but on the whole we have allowed behaviour towards us that most other groups of employees simply would not have tolerated. People on the whole respond well to self-respect and self-confidence. When you display these attributes you are treated differently. Respect cannot be demanded but is earned and owned.
2.The way your brand is experienced by others
If you are too timid or you don’t highlight your special skills or accomplishments, others simply do not take you seriously or don’t actually know how valuable you are and what you bring to the table. Big brands are worth the big bucks!
3.What people are willing to pay you
I have only ever met a handful of assistants (less than a dozen since 2009) who have asked for a raise or negotiated a starting salary. Men tend to be much more assertive in this regard (according to global research) and the inability to have these discussions tends to aggravate the gender pay gap (in my humble opinion). We need to ask for and negotiate for what we want (and deserve) with confidence so that we can be compensated appropriately.
4.Being successful at interviews
It is a fact that the more confidently (not arrogantly or aggressively) you present yourself in an interview the more likely you are to be hired. This is even truer for an assistant, who is the face of the office and often the first contact with important visitors or callers.
5.The opportunities that you will have access to or be approached for
Confidence has layers: what other people see and what you feel. What matters here is how confident you feel. Tough or challenging experiences in your life (that stretch you beyond your comfort zone) will greatly enhance your confidence level. You will be more likely to be brave and accept the next opportunity, but also come across as more confident to others. This will draw more exciting prospects towards you. A bit of bravery will change the course of your life forever. This is like a muscle so start small but keep stretching beyond that comfort zone. Your comfort zone is what is making you feel bored and stuck.
6.Your inner dialogue & Imposter syndrome
What you say to yourself matters! Our inner dialogue can be one of the most damaging conversations we can ever have. It is full of negativity and limiting beliefs. I often wonder how long we would be friends with someone who spoke to us like we do to ourselves. This is a hard cycle to break but is probably the most important starting point if you want to increase your confidence.
So how do we fix it?
When you start talking to yourself in this way ….STOP! Reflect on these thoughts (often we already know that they are harsh and untrue) replace them with something neutral or (if at all possible) with something positive. Keep at it and it will become easier and your inner dialogue will be less limiting. Don’t try to push this voice away, just observe it and bring awareness to it. By tuning in mindfully you can change the story you are telling yourself which will change how you feel.
Imposter syndrome is another common ailment. It is that feeling like we have NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING and SOMEONE IS GOING TO FIND OUT SOON! Well, the good news is that no one else knows what they are doing either; no one has this figured out. Each one of us is just doing the best we can so relax!
7.How much your natural fear limits you
Our brains are designed to be fearful. It is what has ensured the survival of the human race. But not all fear serves us. When you are nervous about something or you feel challenged it is often because you are learning or being required to stretch beyond what is comfortable and this is almost ALWAYS a good thing.
So instead of backing away from those feelings try stepping into it. Often it guides you to something bigger and more exciting.
How do we build confidence?
a.Your body does not know the difference (so start by faking it)
Neuroscientists have proven that when you put a fake smile on your face or even put a pencil between your top and bottom row of teeth and keep it there for less than a minute your body will give of the matching hormones and will change your mood accordingly (as if you were really happy) So, as Amy Cuddy put it “Fake it until you become it”. Create confident body language, practise sounding confident and it will eventually come naturally.
b.Be aware of your posture and your voice
Ask someone (who spends a lot of time with you) to watch your body language. Focussing on your posture, what you do with your hands when you get nervous and what you sound like. Start creating the picture you want others to see. This has a MASSIVE impact on how people experience you so bring awareness to this for big results.
c.Commit to and work at your craft
Work on your “thing”, become the best at what you do. Make mistakes but keep learning and take your development seriously. All of this turns into skill and depth of experience which in turn makes us feel confident and competent.
d.Surround yourself with supportive people
We truly become the sum of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Pick your tribe wisely. Research has shown that negativity is as contagious as the common cold, and I am sure that lack of confidence is too. Surround yourself with people who want you to win and in turn be a cheerleader for them. The world has enough critics and haters!
e.Learn that fear is very often to your benefit and challenge is not always bad
I love the saying “It doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you”. It is what we make of our circumstances which shapes our futures. So step into those uncomfortable situations. They often lead you to magical people and places.
In conclusion, it is my sincere wish that each of you reading this realises how special you are. You are a once-off. There is something special that you need to do in this world. Don’t settle! Stretch, fly and create confidence in those around you as from today. It matters!!