Build Your Confidence, Build Your Career

When was the last time you took credit – really took credit – for a job well done, without giving props to others, shying away from praise or shifting recognition to anyone other than yourself?

If it has been a while, you are not alone. Accepting a compliment seems like it should be simple. Someone says something nice. You say thank you. End of story. Yet in reality, women often struggle with how to graciously accept praise.

A May 2013 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women who collaborate with other men are far less likely to take credit for their work than women who work with other women.

In the study, 34 college-aged men and 36 college-aged women were told that they were working on a project with another individual and both would be held responsible for the outcome. Each participant was asked to spend 20 minutes prioritizing and organizing memos and emails and was told that their contributions would be combined with their partner’s for a final team score. In reality, there was actually no second participant on the team.

When given positive group feedback, the women who were under the impression that they were working with a male all devalued their own contributions to the project and elevated the other person’s success. Follow-up experiments proved that this was not the case when they thought they were working with a female colleague.

Yes, instead of talking about themselves in an honest way or saying “thank you,” women give away the credit, talking about the great team they had, the collaborative efforts involved, the talents of someone, anyone, but themselves.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, calls this phenomenon a confidence gap and has admitted that despite all of her success, even she still feels inadequate at times. In a recent discussion with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sandberg said, “When you’re talking about self confidence I think the thing we really need to realize is we need to adjust up. You need to look in the mirror and say to yourself, ‘Ok, I’m not sure I can do this, but some guy who is less qualified than I am thinks he can. So therefore, I can’.”

Owning up to your accomplishments is not about arrogance, it is about equality. There are clear changes women can make to reprogram the habit of giving credit where credit is not due. After all, if you own up to your mistakes, why wouldn’t you own up to your victories? Here’s how to start getting over the fear of healthy self-promotion:

Learn to Accept Praise

When someone notices and appreciates something you have done, they are usually being honest. When you receive a compliment, believe it. You did a good job, someone is acknowledging you for it and you are receiving an honor that is well deserved. The hardest part is learning what to say in return. Career Girl Network recommends trying these responses when accepting praise. First, simply say thank you and resist the urge to downplay the compliment in any way. If you wish to elaborate, say, “It means a lot to hear your feedback.”

Dianne BaillieAfter competing in the 2009 Deliver Best Practices Competition, which involved presenting her team’s project to a panel of Jabil executives, HR Generalist Dianne Baillie returned back to her office in Livingston, Scotland to many congratulatory messages from her co-workers.

“After returning from the Deliver Best Practices competition, the management team [of Jabil Livingston] praised me and asked me many questions about the experience and how it felt,” said Baillie. “It was an excellent feeling to receive so much recognition but at the same time a little embarrassing, yet I thanked my colleagues and their peers for their praise and kept thinking about what a wonderful time I had.”

Think Back to Your Accomplishments in the Past

To build your confidence, first face the facts. When you look to your past, you will realize that the successes tend to outweigh the failures. And even if you did experience failure, you survived and most likely learned valuable lessons along the way. Your track record provides an inventory of what has happened over the long run, which you can then balance against what you fear may happen in the short term.

Find Supportive Allies

Look to the positive co-workers and mentors who support you, boost you up and help you succeed in your job. These individuals have your back and will often call out your skills and achievements for you – and you can do the same for them.

If you learn to graciously accept praise you will probably find that you are feeling better about yourself and your work.

We want to hear from you: Does accepting praise make you feel uncomfortable? How do you respond?

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