More sovereignty in meetings

Carola M. has already overcome many challenges on the way to her current position as a director in a medium-sized company. Her most recent one, on which she has often received feedback from colleagues, concerns her insecure manner in meetings, especially with "higher-ranking" colleagues. Her self-confidence plummets, she shakes like a leaf inside, her voice often fails her - she conveys messages only tentatively, and she is miles away from her own claim to appear confident.

In the 360 degrees feedback, she also got mirrored by colleagues/supervisors: You have the knowledge, but the way it comes across is not self-confident. In your position, you have to show sovereignty - even make clear announcements. I ask her, "How does the feedback come across to you, and how do you deal with it?" She tells me how much the negative feedback bothers her but that she is convinced that her actions count more than words or her appearance. After all, her work would speak for itself. 

Self-confidence is not an action.

Many people - often women, by the way - get the feedback "be more self-confident" or "act bossier". The problem: For Carola M., this well-intentioned "advice" was not so easy to implement. Self-confidence is not an action - it is a feeling that comes from actions and behaviours. So the real question is, "What can Carola M. do to feel more confident and radiate that?" In order to be able to develop individual measures that strengthen her self-confidence, I ask her, "Describe a situation in which you felt self-confident - what exactly did that look like?" Carola M. talks about meetings with colleagues who are not in front of her in which she felt confident. "When you think about a meeting like that, what adjective describes the impression you left with the participants in that meeting?" She says that in what she calls "feel-good meetings," she feels like she is in control of the content. "Is my perception correct that you have less control in the other meetings?" Carola M. agrees wholeheartedly.

The first result

So the first step is less about "How can I communicate more confidently?" and much more about "How do I react in situations that are out of my control?" In coaching, we first found out how Carola M. could learn to act confidently even when she had no control over the situation. "In meetings with colleagues at the same level or the people from my team, I feel safe. But there, I also feel very clearly that I have authority over the topics and am recognized as an expert. That's very clearly related to the content."

"And how do you feel in meetings with your superiors?" I ask Carola M. She explains in detail that she is then very nervous, her voice breaks away, and she suffers greatly.

"What impression do you want to leave instead? Describe in detail an ideal confident person in your perception." However, her answer - the person needs to be confident and calm - doesn't get her anywhere. We all want to be that in every situation. But who is?

Coaching is now about filtering out and naming the feeling about it and Carola M's actions and behaviours that lead to that feeling. Emotions don't just come out of nowhere - they don't sit on a tree and jump out at you. Instead, they are the result of our actions and behaviours. We give them meaning, and it is from this that the feeling arises. "What feeling do you want to convey to others, and what actions do you associate with it?" I ask Carola M. and want her to find out in this way what actions and behaviours are associated with problematic meetings for her. She recognizes that these are closely related to her attitude, her mindset.

Like in top-class sports

This is similar to top athletes. There is the mental conditioning, i.e. the attitude with which they go into every competition, every training session, every practice. There is subject-specific conditioning, i.e., the techniques that the athlete must master in order to be successful in their sport of choice. And then there is the physical conditioning, i.e., the physical energy. Only when you are well-positioned in all three areas can you achieve peak performance. "What can you do that will enable you to be at your best in the tough meets? Your sport is meetings with higher-ranking colleagues. What mindset do you go into these meetings with? What do you think about yourself and what do you think about the people attending the meeting? What do you think about the people in the situation and the context? Do these thoughts help you achieve your goal - to appear credible, calm and confident - or do these thoughts work against you?"

Key factor mindset

In the course of the coaching, Carola M. finds out that she goes into meetings with a miserable mindset because, among other things, she is poorly prepared. In addition, she sometimes has a poor opinion of her superiors and gets angry with them. In addition, her mind is often somewhere else, and she panics that she has to say something. Even the night before, she imagines how her voice will tremble, and she will panic. I asked her: "Imagine you are a participant in this meeting in which Carola M. is sitting at the table with the mindset you described. What effect does that have on you?" Carola M. says nothing for almost three minutes. She becomes aware of how negative and insecure the energy is that she radiates.

"What attitude, what mindset would help you lead the meeting with a sense of confidence, calm, and credibility? What preparation would be most helpful?" Preparation is mental conditioning that is very closely related to control. Through intensive preparation, she can achieve the very control she has been lacking. We developed a set of questions to help her prepare:

  • What do I want to say?
  • What are the key messages I want to convey?
  • What mindset am I going into the meeting with?
  • What results precisely do I want to achieve?

A big part of being confident is being optimally prepared. So it can condition a much more confident mindset. That's the first step toward becoming more confident - before she walks into the room for the meeting. In the second step, we worked on conditioning her communication skills and then the third step was about physical conditioning. The physical energy she exudes, for example, via the shaky voice in meetings.

As in Carola M's case, you should start by challenging the mindset that led to the insecurity and then make sure that the way you communicate and the physical energy you radiate is consistent with that effect.

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