Adventures in Losing and Finding My Confidence

I have spent the past week working out of town with a client. I’ve felt off and not exactly on my “A-game”. It seemed to me that the client and I just couldn’t connect. This left me feeling frustrated and disappointed. And I began to loose faith in my ability to be effective with this client. I began to think:  Where have I gone wrong? What have I done to cause this response (or lack there of)? Have I missed something? Did I screw up?

So I did, what I typically do when I feel badly.  I turned to my friends for support.  Luckily I have astute friends who can see past my whining and complaining.  They seem to cut through the emotions and get right to the ‘heart’ of the matter.  When I expressed my feelings about the first few days of work with the client, one friend just stated “Sharleen you do good work for this client. You DO GOOD WORK”. She repeated this phrase to me at least 5 times before I really heard her. “I do good work”.  It was this phrase that helped me sort out where my ill feelings were located. I had lost confidence in myself. The communication issues between my client and myself were also my problem.  I was looking to my client to affirm my effectiveness. My expectations of how the communication should be were completely inappropriate for the reality of the situation. (We had been out of contact for at least 7 weeks).  My friend was right; I do good work for this client. I’ve accumulated plenty of evidence of this fact over the past two years. There was absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise, except for the feelings I was having that something had gone wrong.

It was time for me to make an expectation adjustment. I refocused myself on the aspects of my work that I need to do to establish good communication with the client. First, I needed to listen to each person, I needed to re-establish rapport, and I needed to have a positive optimistic attitude and energy about the relationship.  All of these facets would help to re-establish a positive and productive relationship with the organizational members. From there, I could be more effective in my helping role.

This week has been a wake up call for me to remember that confidence is a fragile beast. She can slip from you so easily.  Albert Bandura, David Starr Jordan Professor of Social Science in Psychology/Emeritu at Standford University, has demonstrated through numerous scientific experiments that confidence comes from four main sources: Experiencing success in similar situations, images of success, convincing suggestions that success is imminent, and positive energy (physical and mental) about the potential from success. Paying attention to these elements is thought to put a person the spiral towards self-confidence. I am happy (and proud) to report that is exactly what I did. Let me explain…

First, each day I recorded my successes of the day.  I paid close attention to the rapport I was building with different members. I made a mental note to myself about how I could interact differently with specific members of the organization to achieve rapport with those I had not yet connected with.  I imagined myself successfully communicating about my observations (which I perceived would be difficult to accept by the organization).  And I made sure that I took care of myself, specifically managing my energy through sleep, nutrition, and recreation.  I wanted to make sure that I had enough energy to do the hard work that I felt was necessary. All of these actions contributed to me slowly but surely re-connect with the client.

Each day was a new opportunity to do good work for the client.  I took pride in these successes.  I learned this week that paying attention to build my confidence in my professional skills can pay dividends in being effective, particularly when the work is difficult.