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It's Not Enough to Be Good, You Have to Be Confident

06/04/2014 12:17 EDT | Updated 08/04/2014 05:59 EDT
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

An accomplished journalist and TV presenter, Katty Kay, stood before us sharing that there were times when she didn't feel confident. In fact, she'd convinced herself that she was only popular in the U.S. because of her British accent, it was nothing to do with her skills and talents.

And when she did make a gaffe on television, she focused for hours on that instead of the balance of the time when she'd performed well.

On a much smaller scale, I am sure that most of us lack confidence at one time or another. Compelled to learn more, Kay and her co-author Claire Shipman set about to research and write about the confidence enigma which seemed to particularly impact women.

As they found in one piece of research from Columbia University, for example, while women wouldn't apply for a position unless they felt they had 100 per cent of the required skill sets, men would forge ahead with only 60 per cent in their tool kit and would over-estimate their abilities to succeed.

Likewise in research done by Zachary Estes, it was found when given a series of questions, women would choose not to answer a question if they weren't sure of the answer, whereas men would guess. This meant that while the men were not always right (yes, I know, hard to believe) they scored better with the end result.

To prove their point, Kay and Shipman have actually got a confidence quiz on their website, and I encourage you to take it here. You might be surprised by the results.

While I would say I am a confident person, when it came to being sure and solid about answers where I was just plain guessing, I guess my confidence levels slipped. Clearly I need to work on my "BS" factor.

Talking of DNA, Kay also discovered that there is a genetic test you can take to see if you have the confidence gene in your make up. She smiled as she reported back, that she doesn't have it and she was quite shocked at that outcome.

Part of the problem for women in the workplace, is that they believe if they work hard, it will pay off. They will get recognized, promoted and move up the corporate ladder. Wrong, claims the authors. As they say "it's not enough to be good." You need more.

This finding dovetails well with the research done by Linda Babcock, who in her book Women Don't Ask, found that men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women, and then when women do negotiate, they ask for thirty per cent less than men do.

Part of it, is we over think stuff. Plain and simple. We're not comfortable taking risks, so we play along, imagining in our mind that we are just not up to it. The self talk is a killer. "Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into actions," shares Kay. Perfectionism on the other hand, is our downfall.

Another key component to this confidence debate is confidence vs. competence. Through their research, the authors found that confidence will take you further. As a society, we tend to protect confident people, they are our leaders, and we admire their leadership skills.

But acting like a man is a double-edged sword. Whereas a man will come across as assertive, sadly in women the same traits are seen as aggressive, and so instead of being valued, they are labeled and dismissed.

So what's the answer? Kay advocates we need to be authentic, act more and think less. What do you do if you discover that your confidence levels are not as high as you thought?

Consider your NATs -- negative automatic thoughts -- and Kay's advice is we eliminate them. What she recommends is that we come up with different scenarios. When something negative happens, we automatically think it was our fault. We make assumptions.

It could be as simple as someone not returning an important email. Instead of taking it that they don't like your suggestion and your idea has been dismissed, consider that a) the person is super busy and just hasn't got to it yet or b) that the email never reached its destination or c) they like the idea and are working through the logistics.

A recent Stanford Business School study shows that "women who can combine male and female qualities, do better than anyone else." And this is the good news, because when we can build our confidence levels, look out world, because here we come.

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