Are Your Employees Falling for These Confidence Crushers?


There’s a nugget of wisdom to the all-too-common line “fake it ‘til you make it.” Acting like you’re already in the role you want or calling yourself the title you’re gunning for can boost your motivation to achieve those goals, even when your confidence is wavering.

However, the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality is often about proving one’s worth to others instead of healing an internal belief system. When people are genuinely confident, there’s no faking required.

Fortunately, authentic confidence isn’t Maybelline — people aren’t “born with it” or privy to some magical transformative product. It develops with practice. Leaders who take steps to inspire greater employee confidence can mobilize a workforce that’s engaged, curious, and productive — and that means less likely to quit (either quietly, or officially).

With that in mind, keep an eye out for these common confidence crushers (bonus: we’ll tell you how to change them into confidence boosters).


1. Never showing vulnerability.

The “small dog complex” describes the behaviors of pint-sized dogs who compensate for their stature by yipping, jumping, and snarling (the dog version of “fake it ‘til you make it”).

People also have a tendency to put up a front to mask perceived weaknesses and a (very human) sense of vulnerability. This can manifest itself in arrogance, assertiveness, resistance to feedback, and emotional distance.

Example: a newly minted manager is doubting her competency to lead. She worries her team doubts her abilities and that her leadership will crumble if she makes a single mistake. Rather than talk openly and transparently with her team and her supervisor, she acts the part of a self-assured leader by cooly delivering demands and shying away from honest dialogue and feedback.

This sets the stage for burnout (for both the manager and the team) and discourages productive dialogue.

Do this instead:

Be vulnerable to be confident. 

Jacqueline Brassey, co-author of Advancing Authentic Confidence Through Emotional Flexibility, describes authentic confidence as a skills-based approach to challenges and uncertainty that begins with honest self-awareness:

“You are clear-eyed about your weaknesses and accept them; you know your purpose in life which guides your personal growth.”

It’s human nature to emphasize our strengths and downplay our vulnerability, but embracing the inevitability of mistakes and confronting weaknesses marks the difference between an illusion of confidence and the real deal.

Here are three ways the newly-minted manager could leverage vulnerability to increase her confidence:

  • Put emphasis on the team’s success. This shifts the focus from concerns over self-validation to the needs of others.
  • Know that mistakes will happen and frame them as learning opportunities. Be open about personal missteps and encourage others to grow from failure.
  • Seek feedback. This builds trust, collaboration, and an inclusive environment where input is valued.


2. Not sharing ideas.

When employees lack confidence, they stick to themselves — even when they have great ideas to share. Employees may assume their ideas won’t make a difference or will be poorly received. This confidence crusher is especially acute for employees from underrepresented groups who have been incentivized to stay silent or expected to do so.

For instance, a young female joining a male-dominated tech space faces additional confidence challenges compared to her peers. On top of concerns about (perceptions of) her limited experience, she may worry that her ideas will not carry the same level of credibility as her colleagues. She falls into a default mode of keeping to herself — which exacerbates the (completely ridiculous) perception that women have less to contribute.

Do this instead:

Request input 1:1 from employees.

There’s good and bad news here. The good news is that sharing ideas gets easier the more you practice, raising the confidence meter higher over time. The bad news: getting started can feel like an uphill battle. Employees will need to get cozy with discomfort.

Leaders can help this process by creating inviting opportunities for all employees to contribute and feel valued. EX: meeting with employees one-on-one and getting to know what fuels their passions. If the young female tech worker finds a welcome, less intimidating opening to speak, she is much more likely to do so — especially if her contributions receive positive reinforcement.

There’s a reason (well, many reasons) why we talk so much at The Forem about inclusive workplaces. Employees are more likely to share their ideas in these types of environments, meaning psychological safety is key to boosting employee confidence.

Confidence rituals can also help employees overcome anxieties about speaking up. This could be listening to upbeat music, posting inspirational quotes around a computer monitor, or dancing in the bathroom before a big meeting. Encourage employees to find their own unique way to fire up and assume a positive headspace.


3. Engaging in negative self-talk.

The greatest confidence crusher of all may be negative self-talk. Negative self-talk feeds imposter syndrome (and vice versa), which inflicts many high-performing individuals with the perception that their success is undeserved.

Someone with imposter syndrome feels like a fraud, but believes everyone else has rightfully earned their titles It’s an isolating experience that up to 82% of people experience.

This confidence crusher can be hard to identify, but you can look for these signs: retorting praise with self-deprecating remarks, constantly undercutting one’s performance (even when it’s exceptional), and apologizing for seeking help. Employees may also work doubly hard to prove their worth, putting them at greater risk for burnout.

Do this instead:

Share the advice: talk to yourself like a close friend. 

On top of self-awareness, authentic confidence also requires self-trust. Meaning: be as kind to yourself as you would a close friend, and replace self-deprecation with self-validation. You become (to borrow the sentiment of rapper, Lizzo) your own inspiration.

Think about if you had a close friend with promotion anxiety. You wouldn’t tell her she’s not good enough to advance her career and to give up. You would drench her in praise, affirm her past success, and empower her to go tackle her new adventure like a boss.

When you catch employees falling victim to negative self-talk, reaffirm their value and encourage them to talk to themselves like they would that close friend.

Pro-tip: People aren’t always aware of how much negative self-talk impacts their thoughts and behaviors. One technique for tracking this confidence crusher is to find a jar and start tossing in a coin for every negative comment. If that sounds too expensive, tick marks on a notepad will do.


4. Staying in the comfort zone.

Comfort zones are attractive because any kind of change (even the kind we desire) can trigger an anxiety tailspin. However, staying in the comfort zone won’t push employees to grow, learn, or find their footing on the next rung up the corporate ladder. That’s the very problem with the comfort zone — nothing changes.

Another problem: sometimes employees are itching for challenges but can’t find them in their current position. That might lead them to pivot to a different organization with room for more growth.

Do this instead:

Get in the learning zone. 

The ultimate secret to authentic confidence is ongoing learning and development.

Workplace L&D equips employees with the ability to navigate their careers with purpose and awareness. It broadens their perspective of what is possible, and that goes hand-in-hand with improved mental and emotional health.

When there are no options for upward mobility, learning and development provides an alternative route for growth and fulfillment, which means more employees stay put. As employees learn, they invest those skills back into the company and become more adaptable to change and uncertainty. This improved workplace grit leads to higher resiliency and retention.

Bottom line: When employees have opportunities to learn, they gain a sense of confidence that’s tied to solid skills and a sense of career purpose. Rather than identify with what they lack (and therefore feel the need to fake), they align with what they have to offer. 


Learn how The Forem can help your organization “get into the learning zone” and elevate employee impact by reaching out to a member of our team.