Do you ever feel like you are out of your league?
You know, when you are surrounded by greatness but you feel too small to be included in that group?
This is something that has plagued me my whole career.
Just last night I had the privilege of being on a panel with 4 other women executives. I was the only one in the tech sector, and each of the other ladies was super impressive.
We started with introductions and I was really brief, I mentioned that I worked at some big companies, and then startups and am now doing my own thing. I was done in less than 60 seconds. Then each of the other ladies went sharing their background and accolades, including degrees from top colleges, impressive positions at Fortune 500 companies, and so forth. I felt very inadequate to be among such stars.
However, by the end of the panel I felt like I wasn’t just one of them but that I was shining among them. As people asked questions they all had great responses, but I often took a different stance and approach to the questions and I know my answers really resonated with the audience. Even though I may have had less experience I was able to add a lot of value to the conversation.
These feelings hold us back.
I can think of times early in my career when I was too nervous to speak up in meetings with a big executive, or when we were pitching investors. When the stakes got high, I was so worried about messing up I would never put myself out there.
The problem with letting these feelings get the best of you is that if you don’t learn to speak up you will miss out on opportunities. You may miss the chance to express your viewpoint, or even just miss your moment to shine.
This means that you have to figure out a way to control these emotions so that they don’t paralyze you (and you don’t take action) or worse (the action you take or the thing you say comes out wrong and actually makes you look less-than-smart).
Since this is something I have dealt with over and over again (and suffered everything from saying the wrong say, being too verbose and not getting my point across, to sitting there silently adding nothing to the conversation), here are the strategies that help me get a handle on these feelings so I can participate and be a part of the action.
Step 1: Believe you belong
As difficult as this sounds, the fact that you have a seat at the table means that you do belong. If you are in the room and invited to participate it means someone who had influence believed you would have something valuable to add to the conversation.
Aren’t convinced? Well you won’t be until you start believing it.
Like the panel I was on last night, there was a good reason I was there – I had all sorts of smart, insightful things to say – some of which were very different from the other panelists. My point of view was valuable.
No one is going to believe it if you don’t start believing it yourself.
One tool I have used is affirmations where you remind yourself each day, or right before you walk into a room, that you belong, you are awesome, and you have a lot of value to add. It is amazing how that repetition can actually change your mindset.
Another technique that I have used is positive visualizations of your success prior to the event or meeting. This is something I use every single time before I get up on stage to deliver a speech. I visualize my success on stage, I see the audience laughing at my jokes, the awesome social media sharing, and the thunderous applause. Athletes don’t ever think they are going to lose, why would you think that you will be anything but successful?
The point of these exercises is to get out of your head and let you start believing, and seeing your success.
Step 2: Prepare, prepare, prepare
One of the best ways to ensure your success is to over-prepare for the meeting. If there are open questions spend some time beforehand jotting down your answers, doing a little research and making some notes. Then in the meeting when you reference your notes you will not only seem prepared (which will only make you look good), but you can remember all of your talking points (which can be a challenged if your mind is distracted on your performance and impostor feelings).
If you are giving a speech or explanation, rehearsing it beforehand may help you feel more comfortable with your delivery. When I give a talk on stage I probably spend 1 hour prepping for every minute I am actually speaking. However, when I go up there I am so comfortable with material, I could often give my talk without my notes or my slides.
Besides if you fail to prepare it is only going to make your more nervous, and that definitely isn’t a good thing!
Step 3: Speak slowly!
If you are someone who says the wrong thing, speaks in run on sentences (or just has trouble being concise), or have a shaky voice when you are nervous (this one happens to me!), then learning to speak slowly is one of the most useful strategies you will ever find.
Speaking slowly will make you more articulate. In the book Words Can Change Your Brain the author has a whole section and set of exercises on speaking slowly (and if these are even better if you listen to the audio version). Practicing doing those exercises and learning to apply it in my daily life was a huge communication tool for me.
When I get upset or emotional, focusing on my heart rate, getting in tune with my biofeedback signals, and slowing down my speech allows me to think before I open my mouth.
Try it. Pause between each word. You may sound slow in your head, but I bet the people around you don’t even notice you have slowed down your tempo!
Step 4: Share your feelings with someone you trust
When fears remain in our head, unspoken, they tend to take a life of their own. I am reminded of those cartoons where the shadows look a whole lot like monsters, but as soon as the light turns on the shadow just disappears and is replaced by the cuddly teddy bear in the corner of the room. Well our fears are like those shadows.
Once we share them with someone else, sometimes they seem downright silly. If you have a coach or friend you trust talk to them about your feelings; since if you go to Step 1, I bet your feelings are unjustified. If you aren’t comfortable sharing them, write them down. Just get them out of your head. Shine a light on your shadows.
Do you have other strategies or ideas for dealing with feelings of insecurity or inadequacy at work? If so, please add them in the comments – I know this is something a lot of people deal with and all the leaders reading our blog would love more tools to help the people around them.