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Learn the language of self-confidence 🗣

Have you ever undersold your work or experience?

Be honest!

As someone who’s often asked to look at people’s resumes and to help them get interview-ready, I see people underselling themselves all the time. Not just in terms of their professional attributes, but with the words they use to describe their impact.

One woman I worked with was brimming with eagerness to get a particular writing job. When I asked her, as a practice interview question, “What’s a project you’re particularly proud of?” she said, “Oh, I know! I helped out on a corporate development report.”

Perfectly valid project, right? But, her answer didn’t exactly scream “leadership” or “impact.”

The truth is, her contribution was much greater than she had let on – and the answer she worked on and started using was this: “I researched, edited, and published an award-winning corporate development report. It went on to become the centerpiece of our business development process.”

See the difference there?!

Let me tell ya, playing it safe by underselling your value is a losing strategy. It only teaches others to see you as lesser than you are…and no one wants that.

You see – there’s a certain language to self-confidence, and learning it can change how you frame your worth.

If your confidence is high, you’ll likely use words that reflect ownership and choices, perseverance, and results. If your confidence is low on the other hand, you might temper your words and water down your contributions negating your full impact.

The great news is that language skills are an improvable thing!

You can get better at the language of self-confidence by experimenting with it in low-stakes situations initially, like writing emails, before speaking out loud.

The point is, to build your self-awareness in those moments you’re diminishing yourself so that you can correct course and claim the credit you deserve!

Use today’s tips to get comfortable speaking confidently about yourself and your achievements.

Quick Confidence Tips for Becoming Fluent in the Language of Self-Confidence:

  1. Mindset: Decide you have a high degree of self-agency. Agency is a knowing belief that your behavior is guided by your own decisions and efforts. Fully embracing that fact means you remind yourself of your power and control in ongoing ways. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “Ugh, I have to give the leadership team a presentation tomorrow,” you could say “Wow! I get to deliver a presentation to leadership tomorrow.” That shifts you from a passenger to the driver of the situation. Or, you could adopt a tip from entrepreneur Gillian Behnke, who recommends saying, “This is good because…” and then listing the positive angles of something. Using our earlier example of the leadership presentation, you could say, “This is good because I’ve been looking for more opportunities to practice presenting.” By practicing these swaps, you’ll find yourself using the more empowering versions more often. Soon you’ll start saying them out loud to others, training people to see you as someone who’s in charge of their own destiny.

  2. Interpersonal: Use power words. When pitching your ideas, make sure that the words you use raise your stature, not undercut it. I mean phrasing your ideas in succinct terms like “I recommend, I propose, I expect, I question, I advise.” Or when talking about your past projects, you can say, "I built, I gathered, I analyzed, I convened, I developed, I budgeted, I negotiated, I implemented.” These are strong actions we associate with leaders. I suggest you use them to describe your best ideas or past work. While you’re at it, stay away from “I suppose, I guess, and I'm no expert but...” all of which lessen the strength of your message. This ensures that the degree of your impact is matched by the power of your words.

  3. Embodied: Don’t rush the response. If you’ve ever eaten a meal in a hurry, maybe in an effort to make it to the next place you needed to be on time, then you know it can be a hollow experience. Sure, you just ate a meal, but you didn’t focus on the experience, let alone savor the food, flavor, or people around you! Well, rushing through your words is a lot like that. It delivers a lesser experience. It tells others that you don’t see your words (whether in a presentation, interview, or somewhere else) as having enough weight to take up space. It can come across as apologetic and hasty, and it doesn’t reflect well on you! Confident communicators know this, and they take the time to really inhabit the open space given to them. They pause to take a breath and then they walk people through a cogent response with a beginning, middle, and end using signposts like “First, we did…” “Next, we did….” and “Finally, we did…”.

Some of you might be thinking, “These tips are fine and dandy when I know how to respond, but what if I don’t know the answer to the question lobbed at me?”

To that I say: Don’t worry, you can still answer confidently!

You can ask a clarifying question like “I want to make sure I understand. Are you asking X or Y?” Or, you can buy yourself some time by thinking about your responses and saying something like, “Ahh, that’s a great/interesting/complex question. Let me consider my past projects for a moment…. Ok, here’s a good example…”

If publicly giving yourself the recognition you deserve feels uncomfortable or scary, that’s okay! But I assure you that just as your practice improved your language skills as a little kid, you too can master the language of self-confidence by practicing these techniques consistently.

Do you remember a time when playing small may have cost you a great opportunity? Or on the flip side: can you think of an instance where you intentionally gave yourself proper credit for your accomplishments and it opened a door? Please share in the comments!


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