How to manage someone who lacks confidence

Confidence is a strange thing – it can be the difference between success and failure, charm and rudeness.

It can be frustrating for a manager who has someone that is clearly talented but lacks the conviction in their skills and opinions to make things happen. Confidence is a cornerstone of influence; it’s needed to make positive impressions and to meet new people. So how do you inspire that in the people that work for you? How do you build towards that for people who don’t quite have enough confidence?

1. How do you recognise a lack of confidence

Hesitation is the biggest give away when looking for a lack of confidence. Look out for lots of ‘maybe’, ‘possibly’, ‘do you think…?’ words. When asking an under-confident person for their opinion they will often use these tentative words, shrug as if unsure, offer ‘soft’ opinions or toe the party line. Another common sign is when people wait for a senior manager to leave the room and say “I think he is wrong about that because…”

It can be difficult to work out who is lacking confidence compared to those who lack ability. The difference is that those that lack ability, but have the confidence to try, may fail, but will learn and ultimately be more successful.

2. Communicate clearly and be a predictable boss

Be clear about what you require, explain fully and check understanding. Predictability builds trust, which is a good starting point for building confidence in a person. If people in your team walk on eggshells because your moods vary widely from one day to the next or if you’re inconsistent in your criticism then people will start to play it safe. The culture will shift so that no risks are taken that might unexpectedly incur wrath. This culture is the opposite of trust, confidence and, ultimately, creativity.

3. Follow up regularly, with small goals and achievable milestones

Building confidence is a process and extending someone too far before they’re ready can cause anxiety to build and undo a lot of good work. Meet regularly to discuss goals and challenges. Set personal challenges that can be achieved by stepping just outside the comfort zone. Find strategies and discuss with the individual ways that will make them better at their job. Know when to remain private about someone’s challenges, as not everyone needs to know.

4. Give responsibility

Micro-managing your team can cause a lot of unexpected side effects. One such effect is undermining team confidence. By handing over responsibility to people to complete tasks from end to end you are giving them a chance to achieve. These achievements are what fuel intrinsic confidence and allow the person a chance to feel competent. Discuss with the person how much supervision and what they need to work at their best.

5. Reward achievement.

This is perhaps the most important method of improving someone else’s confidence. It is so easy to simply acknowledge a job well done. Whether it’s a comment of praise or an acknowledgement in conversation to someone else, or even a financial reward at the end of an appraisal period – rewarding achievement gives a clear and unambiguous message that the person is doing something right. Positive feedback boosts morale and is very motivating. Mostly people don’t get enough of it.

6. What if you are the one lacking confidence

It can be much harder to recognise a lack of confidence in yourself than it is with other people. Lacking confidence usually shows in the form of not expressing your opinion often or clearly enough or by not taking risks and stepping outside your ‘safe zone’. Mostly it can be seen in avoidance of certain tasks. So beware of procrastination – it may not be about lack of challenge or being bored, it may simply be that you lack the confidence to complete a brilliant job.

Confidence is such an important element of interpersonal communication – without it you render yourself open to unfair compromises, frustration, dishonesty and also unfair perceptions of your ability and personality. As a society we are very good at discussing what is wrong, but confidence is about knowing what is good about yourself and feeling free to express it.

Eve Ash has created a wide range of video and book resources ( for building confidence and interpersonal skills.


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