Stretch, fly and create confidence in those around you says Anel Martin

As a trainer and coach, I have been lucky enough to work with assistants all over the world. Recently, it dawned on me that we have one very significant problem facing us as a profession. No, it is not the rapid advancement of technology, job security, economic shifts or artificial intelligence.

It is confidence.

As a group, assistants are generally talented, intelligent and resourceful. We deal with high-stress levels and intense demands. We manage ongoing interruptions and a very high volume of information (flooding in via electronic communication) without a decline in the quality of our work.  We are creative, reliable, loyal, have higher than average emotional intelligence and can build strong relationships with ease. In other words, assistants are the perfect employee for the Fourth Industrial Age.

So why are we still underrated, under-utilised and, more importantly, underpaid?

The only logical conclusion for me is the lack of confidence I see and feel in the assistants I meet; this is the same whether I am in the US or Uganda.

How does this manifest?

Not being able to speak up when you need to, feeling like shining a light on your performance or achievements is bragging, always focussing on making others look good (without ever getting credit), and trying desperately to blend in and not to draw any attention to ourselves. We are also often thrown under the bus by other employees and feel that it is wrong for us to fight back. It is being fearful and afraid of new opportunities and losing out on grand adventures.

Confidence impacts important aspects of your life and your career

1. How the role is perceived in your office and the business world

A wonderful friend of mine once told me that we teach others how to treat us. So, how have we taught our peers, teams and the business to treat us? Worth pondering, but overall, we have allowed behaviour towards us that most other groups of employees simply would not tolerate. People on the whole respond well to self-respect and self-confidence. When you display these attributes, you are treated differently. Respect cannot be demanded but is earned and owned.

2. The way your brand is experienced by others

If you are too timid or you don’t highlight your unique skills or accomplishments, others simply do not take you seriously. They don’t know how valuable you are and what you bring to the table. Big brands are worth the big bucks!

3. What people are willing to pay you

I have only ever met a handful of assistants (less than a dozen since 2009), who have asked for a raise or negotiated a starting salary. According to global research, men tend to be much more assertive in this regard. In my opinion, the inability to have these discussions tends to aggravate the gender pay gap. We need to ask for and negotiate for what we want, and deserve, with confidence so that we can be compensated appropriately.

4. Being successful at interviews

It is a fact that the more confidently (not arrogantly or aggressively) you present yourself in an interview the more likely you are to be hired. This is even more true for an assistant, who is the face of the office and often the first contact with important visitors or callers.

5. The opportunities that you will have access to or be approached for

Confidence has layers:  what other people see and what you feel. What matters here is how confident you feel. Tough or challenging experiences in your life that stretch you beyond your comfort zone will greatly enhance your confidence level. You will be more likely to be brave and accept the next opportunity, but also come across as more confident to others. This will draw more exciting prospects towards you. A bit of bravery will change the course of your life forever. Confidence is like a muscle, so start small but keep stretching beyond that comfort zone. Your comfort zone is what is making you feel bored and stuck.

6. Your inner dialogue & Imposter syndrome

What you say to yourself matters! Our inner dialogue can be one of the most damaging conversations we can ever have. It is full of negativity and limiting beliefs. I often wonder how long we would be friends with someone who spoke to us like we do to ourselves. This is a hard cycle to break but is probably the most important starting point if you want to increase your confidence.

When you start talking to yourself in this way …. STOP! Reflect on these thoughts – often we already know that they are harsh and untrue – and replace them with something neutral or positive.  Keep at it and it will become easier; your inner dialogue will become less limiting. Don’t try to push this voice away, just observe it and bring awareness to it. By tuning in mindfully you can change the story you are telling yourself which will change how you feel.

Imposter syndrome is another common ailment. It is that feeling like we have NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING, and SOMEONE IS GOING TO FIND OUT SOON! Well, the good news is that no one else knows what they are doing either; no one has this figured out. Each one of us is just doing the best we can so relax!

7. How much your natural fear limits you

Our brains are designed to be fearful. It is what has ensured the survival of the human race. But not all fear serves us. When you are nervous about something or you feel challenged it is often because you are learning or being required to stretch beyond what is comfortable and this is almost always a good thing.

So instead of backing away from that feeling try stepping into it. Often it guides you to something bigger and more exciting.

How do we build confidence?

1. Your body does not know the difference (so start by faking it)

Neuroscientists have proven that when you put a fake smile on your face or even put a pencil between your top and bottom row of teeth and keep it there for less than a minute your body will give of the matching hormones and will change your mood accordingly (as if you were really happy) So, as Amy Cuddy put it “Fake it until you become it”. Create confident body language, practise sounding confident and it will eventually come naturally.

2. Be aware of your posture and your voice

Ask someone who spends a lot of time with you to watch your body language. Focus on your posture, what you do with your hands when you get nervous, and what you sound like. Start creating the picture you want others to see. This has a massive impact on how people experience you, so bringing awareness to these areas can bring big results.

3. Commit to, and work at, your craft

Work on your “thing”, become the best at what you do. Make mistakes but keep learning and take your development seriously. All this turns into skill and depth of experience which in turn makes us feel confident and competent.

4. Surround yourself with supportive people

We truly become the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. Pick your tribe wisely. Research has shown that negativity is as contagious as the common cold. I am sure that lack of confidence is too! Surround yourself with people who want you to win and in turn be a cheerleader for them. The world has enough critics and haters.

5. Learn that fear is very often to your benefit and challenge is not always bad

I love the saying “It doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you”. It is what we make of our circumstances which shape our future. So, step into those uncomfortable situations. They often lead you to magical people and places.

It is my sincere wish that each of you reading this article realises how special you are. You are a one-off. There is something special that you need to do in this world. Don’t settle! Stretch, fly and create confidence in those around you, starting today. It matters.

Anel Martin is a multi-award winning ex-Personal Assistant who now works as a full-time trainer. She has extensive experience in the profession and is widely considered an industry expert. Anel is also one of the Directors of the Isipho Admin Bursary (www ... (Read More)

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