Three signs you lack confidence and what to do about it

Confidence. We all want it and many of us let a lack of confidence in certain areas debilitate us. Let’s stop that! Today, I want to talk about three common signs of lacking confidence, how to address each one and how to use the confidence you have in one area of your life to bolster confidence in other areas.

What is confidence?

The dictionary defines confidence six different ways. What we’re talking about here is confidence being the “belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.”

Take a moment to think about work, home, romance and how you feel under fluorescent lighting; wouldn’t it be great to feel confident no matter what? This is possible and it’s all about identifying areas where we lack confidence and practicing activities that build our confidence.

In my work, I see three signs of low confidence all the time and I love helping my clients overcome confidence issues! Let’s look at how to get started today.      

Sign #1 that you lack confidence: You don’t ask for what you want

This is such a common issue for women. We’ve been taught to not ask for what we want our whole lives with messages like “play nice, don’t be greedy, don’t speak up, don’t step out, be a good girl, etc.” This indoctrination means that we always ask ourselves if we’re being fair or greedy and this can hamper our (perceived) ability to ask for what we really want.

This shows up for professional women when it’s time to go after a promotion and the corresponding raise. For entrepreneurs, it’s often about pricing. And for all kinds of women, it shows up in our own homes and families.

The root of not asking for what we want is often self-doubt. The result is resentment, an emotion that poisons relationships and our own well-being. When it comes to relationships, it’s especially unfortunate because it’s not the other person’s fault we didn’t ask for what we want. That’s on us!

How to build confidence by asking for what you want

We can’t wait for confidence before we do something. We must take action to build our confidence. So, to build the confidence to ask for what you want, you must ask for what you want. It’s simple but I know it’s not always easy.

It starts with figuring out what you want. You don’t have to justify it to anyone else. But while building this skill, you might have to justify what you want to your biggest critic: you. Being clear about what you want makes it easier for you to say it out loud.

Let’s look at a few ways to say what you want:

  • I’m pursuing this new position and I’d like your help navigating the leadership team dynamic.
  • For the strategy consultation and execution project, my fee is $10,000.
  • Mommy meditates at 8 pm every night so unless the house is on fire, it’s quiet time for half an hour.

If you’re curious about how to say no to what you don’t want, read the section on boundaries in my article, Five power skills every leader needs to develop.

Sign #2 that you lack confidence: Your body language

When we’re communicating—and this is especially true for women—we can have great content and verbal communication but be sabotaged by our body language. When our body language isn’t aligned to what we say and/or our position, it shows other people we lack confidence. Body language to watch out for includes fidgeting, playing with our hair, rubbing our neck, rolling our eyes, etc.

Examples of confidence-inspiring body language

Example 1: Taking notes at the executive table

You’re possibly the lone female executive in the room and you’re listening to a presentation and taking notes. When your CEO asks for input, your body language—as a notetaker—says that you don’t have anything to contribute. Which is probably not true! When you take notes in a meeting, it communicates that your role is to gather information and share it with everybody, not contribute to the conversation. This is a wonderful role if you’re an executive assistant. However, if you’re not in a support role, you must step away from activities that put you there.

Instead of hunching over your notepad, sit back in your chair and when you have something to say, say it!  

Example 2: Being talked over during your presentation

Your boss asks you to do a presentation for your client but during the meeting, your boss takes over, ignores the client-centric content you prepared and goes on a bit of a rant. You’re the resident expert on the presentation topic and you can see your client getting frustrated, yet you don’t want to embarrass your boss.

When you don’t speak up and it’s obvious you need to, you’re signalling a lack of confidence (and if you had a mirror, you’d see your body wasn’t radiating confidence).

In this case, you need to put your discomfort aside to get the meeting back on track graciously. It can help to ask yourself, “What are the risks if I do or say nothing right now?” Putting the risks into perspective (for example, the client is angry, we’re at risk of losing this contract) can help spur you into action.

To get the meeting back on track, you can say something like, “Boss, you make a great point, but Client looks like he has some questions about our presentation.” This directs the attention back to the client and the original topic of discussion with respect. Then you can ask your client questions that show you understand the point of the presentation while demonstrating your ability to get everyone refocused to that purpose.

Sign #3 that you lack confidence: You use negative self-talk

Women fall into the negative self-talk trap and it can take years or decades before they pry themselves out of this trap. When we’re feeling a lack of or not enough of, we tend to amplify negative stories in our minds, instead of being our best cheerleaders. This reinforces our lack of confidence and solidifies negative self-talk as a habit.

If this sounds like you, I want to assure you that you can break the cycle.

How to build confidence with helpful self-talk

The more you catch negative self-talk and refocus your thoughts on what you do want or your strengths, the more you’ll break the pattern.

Three ways to break the cycle of negative self-talk:

  1. Catch it – When you notice it happening, acknowledge it. You can say, “Oh that’s my gremlin,” or “That’s negative self-talk.”
  2. Inquire about how appropriate it is – Ask yourself, “Would it be okay if someone said this to my best friend?” If no, move to reframing the situation.   
  3. Reframe it – Shift from telling yourself a story to asking helpful questions such as, “What inspiration do I need right now? What are my strengths? What’s the best-case scenario? What if I do this presentation and it’s the best talk of my life?” When we ask ourselves these expansive questions, we limit space for small, negative thinking.   

All-round confidence booster: The confidence transfer

Here’s the secret of every confident woman: there’s an area of her life where she lacks confidence. A woman could be running a Fortune 500 company and yet be devastated by an off-hand remark from a suitor. A woman could be accepting a leadership award while wondering if she’s a bad mom for missing bedtime. This happens to men too. A man could be aggressively pursuing a generous raise to go along with his promotion but won’t ask for an extra week of vacation because he thinks he’ll look weak.

The trick is to borrow confidence in one area of your life and transfer it to another area. Make a list of all the areas you’re confident in and explore what makes you confident in each area. Then ask yourself how you can take that and translate it into other areas.

Let’s look at networking as an example.

Jane sees Shelby at a networking event and thinks, “Wow, Shelby is so confident, she has no trouble talking to anybody and I tend to shy away in the corner.” Instead of indulging in this negative self-talk, Jane asks a few questions like, “What makes me shy away? Why am I so uncomfortable? I have the courage to go to the event, why am I not maximizing it?”

In Jane’s case, she realizes it’s because she doesn’t have a job to do. This is a Eureka moment because Jane excels at getting jobs done. For the next networking event, Jane gives herself the job of putting everyone she talks to at ease—because she knows how uncomfortable networking events can be. Jane’s confidence has skyrocketed because she borrowed some from another area where her skills shine through.

We’re not all born with confidence. But we can develop confidence when we cultivate a possibility mindset and practice confident behaviour.

If you’d like to build your confidence in a supportive community environment over the next 12 months, become a member of the WIL Empowered program today!  


Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.

I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.

WIL Empowered is a year-long program where we use all four aspects of leadership development: coaching, networking, peer to peer mentorship and skills development. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.

Take our five-minute leadership quiz to discover where your leadership skills are now and where you’d like them to be this time next year.

To discover more about the WIL Empowered program, visit the website.


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