Five simple steps can increase confidence when working with peers, writes Dr Rebecca Newton.
Your boss supports you and wants the best for you – she hired you after all. Your employees support you, and your clients value you. But what about your peers? Time after time, I’ve encountered successful professionals whose one confidence barrier seems to be their relationship with peers.
Why is it that we can feel less sure of ourselves in front of our peers? And what can we do about it?
Peers tend to be the people in the organisation with the same specialist knowledge that we do. Often they come from a similar background and same degree of experience. They know what we know.
So when a peer has a more assertive or aggressive style than you do, or simply comes to different conclusions from the same set of facts, it can feel like a personal attack on your way of doing things. Our internal monologue oscillates between negative self-talk (“Why didn’t I think of that?”) and defensiveness (“That’ll never work anyway!”). Moreover, there’s a natural competitiveness between people at the same level in the organisation – you’re often competing for the same resources and promotions.
Letting this turn into a negative cycle can be destructive, eroding your own confidence and undercutting your attempts to come across as calm and competent. To have more confidence with, and alongside, peers:
- Recognise your own uncertainty about their intentionality. We almost exclusively think of ourselves when it comes to the difference between our intent and our impact. We feel bad when we realise we’ve had an unintended negative impact on others. In acknowledging this difference, we are inadvertently giving ourselves permission to have this gap. Let’s be gracious enough towards others and assume they too have a gap between their intention towards us and the impact they have.
- Choose courageous conversations rather than silent competition. To have an honest conversation about your dynamic and relationship with that one person who makes you feel particularly intimidated takes a huge amount of vulnerability, personal risk, and interpersonal skill. The easy option is to continue without having the difficult conversation. The courageous conversation is more likely to lead to collaboration and better outcomes. In being less intimidated, you don’t just feel more comfortable and confident at work, you’re able to give more in terms of both quantity and quality.
- Think about what you think. In the reality of our busyness, we rush into meetings and only then start thinking about the matter at hand. What we skip is giving ourselves the space – ahead of time – to think about what we think about those topics. This is particularly the case with team meetings, where we’re sitting alongside peers. In client/customer meetings, we go in with a point of view. We’ve made time to think, analyse, and come up with recommendations. Part of why we feel more confident with clients and customers is not just that we know more than they do about what they’re asking us to advise them on, but that we’ve typically just given it more thought. Before your next meeting with peers, ask yourself: What is my opinion on this? What are some of the risks? What else could we do to take this situation forward? What other information could be helpful for me to find out beforehand and share?
- Realise that for most of us, there is “no right answer in business”. This little mantra has helped some of my most intimidated clients to share their view with more confidence in front of strong peers. More than that, rarely are ideas offered that are stupid. When I ask them to recall the last time they offered an opinion that was ridiculed (openly or silently), they can’t give one example. Speaking up is almost always worth the risk.
- Recognise there is no pie. Working with peers is not a winner-takes-all game: more wins for you, less for me. Just because an idea is not adopted, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable input, particularly if it was a springboard for others’ contributions. Conversely, getting your proposal accepted doesn’t necessarily mean that you gain an edge over your peers.
The goal is not to reduce the frequency with which we disagree with peers, or with which they disagree with us. The goal is to change how we feel about these conversations. Ironically, it’s by stepping further into the uncomfortable – through having courageous conversations, carving out seemingly impossible time to think, and being more willing to say and hear a variety of opinions – that we increase our comfort and confidence with peers.
- This article was initially published on Harvard Business Review in 2015 and re-posted on Management with Impact blog with the author’s permission.
Dr. Rebecca Newton is a business psychologist, leadership advisor and Senior Visiting Fellow at LSE in the Department of Management where she teaches Management in Action. Connect with Rebecca on Twitter @DrRebeccaNewton.