Loss Of Confidence

Ever had a temporary crisis of confidence, a right royal loss of faith in your own abilities, that lasted for a number of days or weeks? Ever found yourself seemingly fine one day, then the next, a mass of indecision, jitters and uncertainty? If you have been there, done that, you’ll know just how unpleasant it is. If you haven’t had the experience, you may well wonder how it could possibly occur.

In talking to some managers recently, it seems a loss of confidence can be triggered in a number of ways. Working without positive feedback or acknowledgement for one’s efforts, or working for managers who don’t specify the outcomes required (or change the outcomes constantly, so its impossible to know if one has hit the mark or not) can erode confidence. Working for those with a relentless focus on what hasn’t yet been done, or work that wasn’t done as well as anticipated, can also be corrosive. Derogatory throw-away comments from colleagues or peers, intended as meaningless banter, can be viewed by recipients as negative and destructive.

Negative, destructive experiences of seemingly confidential, constructive, multi-rated performance feedback systems feature highly in the crisis-erosion stakes as does the undertaking of major pieces of work that don’t work out as well as intended. Then there’s the usual major life events like bereavements or other changes that can slump the spirits. The experience of being in a new role, in a new sector, without induction, adequate support, resources or direction and the need to produce results quickly, can be detrimental to work confidence. The jitters can also be triggered by being ‘set up’ by less than honest or professional colleagues.

The result with those experiencing a loss of confidence, is that they become tentative, hesitant and questioning of themselves and their abilities. They may have difficulties making decisions for fear of making the wrong one or, alternatively, make decisions and then analyse them to death, questioning their rationale and the decision, over and over again. All these actions makes them even more tentative, hesitant, questioning, and paralysed, not able to think straight……and the vicious cycle continues. They may be fearful also, wondering when or if they will ever feel confident again. So what can you do, if one of your managers is having a crisis of confidence?

It’s useful to acknowledge the state they may be in – that it sounds as if they have lost some of their confidence. Naming the state can be enormously reassuring for the person concerned. Acknowledging too, that it is generally a temporary condition, triggered off by particular events or situations, can also be beneficial. Ask the manager to reflect back and identify what possible factors or situations may have thrown them. With them, consider the events or situations and put them into context, to help give perspective, if it seems as if they have lost it.

An example is the manager who has flogged him/herself to a standstill for an event that has consequently blown up into a major situation. The manager may see it as proof positive of his lack of wherewithal and may not see or disregard contributing organisational factors i.e. the lack of bring up system; inadequate policies; or lack of clarity about key tasks between key roles. It could well be that personal factors have played a part in the situation such as inadequate time management techniques or poor planning. Encourage the manager to identify any of her own contributing practice gaps, as well as any organisational or other factors.

Ask the manager to recall any previous occasions where he/she had a loss of confidence and what helped him/her to get confident again. Ask how those actions and that experience could be used again now. Often, in the grip of the immediate crisis, a person can’t immediately see that they may have been in similar, difficult positions in the past and that they have got through it. Ask what would help to get confidence back now and ask what you could do to assist.

Small, manageable steps are important here. It’s difficult and unrealistic to go from a lack of confidence to full restoration in one single bound. With the manager, consider the little steps that may be undertaken along the path. Coach, guide and support her efforts. Meet often. In considering a given situation that may have gone less well than the manager intended, discuss any possible learning gaps the situation highlights. Ask the manager to identify the next steps to close the gaps. Make requests – I’d like you to do X by the end of the week – if you find some things that need doing that your manager seems slow or reluctant to do.

When the manager experiences successes, confidence will return, so the achievement of small steps is the key. Positively endorse the manager’s efforts, abilities and skills and focus on their achievements. And let your manager know, by your words and actions, that you have every confidence in his/her abilities.


First Published NZBusiness July 2002�

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