How Self Doubt Can Affect Your Professional Relationships

“Jen, can you take a look at this proposal?” Evan asked as Jen quickly walked past. They had discussed it earlier that day and penciled in right now to do it. “I don’t have time right now, Evan. Figure it out or ask Anita.” Jen responded curtly. “Ok. What’s up with her?” Evan thought.

Jen had just left a meeting, in which she pitched an idea to her executive board that she had been working on for weeks. Her board listened intently and then began asking questions, uncovering problems with her idea she hadn’t thought about. The board thanked her for her efforts but ultimately concluded her idea wouldn’t work.

As Jen got into her car to go home, she felt so defeated and embarrassed. On top of that, she felt bad for being rude to Evan. Tears began to well up as she thought to herself, “I’m a failure.”

Have you ever felt like Jen? Most people have. Research reveals that 50 percent of female managers and 31 percent of male managers admit to experiencing self-doubt.  A feeling that’s exacerbated when something at work doesn’t go your way. When you experience self doubt, you’re more susceptible to jealousy, resentment, indignation, arrogance, and indifference. This not only affects your performance, it affects your professional relationships.

In the story above, Jen was so embarrassed her idea failed, she was rude to her colleague, pushed her responsibility onto someone else, and didn’t follow through on a commitment. Everyone fails. If you haven’t yet, you will! How you handle failure and what you learn from it can either positively or negatively impact your self-confidence and relationships.

Here are 5 ways you can keep self-doubt from ruining your professional relationships:

  1. Admit you’re experiencing it. Self-doubt can do unpleasant things when you don’t admit you’re feeling it. It can manifest itself in arrogance, disrespect or jealousy. Self-doubt can come from disappointment, unmet expectations, intimidation, or disparaging words or actions from another person. Recognize your feelings of self- doubt and try to identify the cause. It might help to write down what you’re feeling and the experience(s) that trigged it. Identifying how you feel and determining the cause will help you process feelings of doubt, giving it less power over you.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel it. It’s hard to admit when you’re disappointed or that you’ve failed. It’s easier to blame someone else, pick a fight, or convince yourself it doesn’t bother you. None of these solutions are good for your relationships or your confidence. Let yourself have a minute, like Jen did in her car. But instead of labeling yourself, identify your feelings. “I’m so disappointed and embarrassed. I feel like a failure” is a much better way to process your experience than “I AM a failure”. Allowing yourself to feel negative feelings, enables you to process and let them go. Self-doubt is a symptom of unprocessed feelings.
  3. Practice self-compassion. As noted by author and found of Clarion Enterprises Bruna Martinuzzi in a recent blog post, “Studies show that there is a strong correlation between self-compassion and positive mental health, such as reduced anxiety and greater life satisfaction, as well as higher self-esteem.”  You’re not perfect and neither is anyone else. When you practice self-compassion, you’re more likely to extend compassion to others. This makes for better professional relationships and a culture where people aren’t afraid to learn, struggle, and grow.
  4. Adopt a growth mindset. When you change your mindset to value learning and growth, just as much as you value winning, failure becomes less awful. Recognizing your experience as a process will help you wade through it without the resentment, anger, and self-doubt. This will help you keep those feelings out of your relationships with colleagues. You can also help them adopt the same mindset, looking for opportunities to grow, learn, and improve.
  5. Choose Courage over Comfort. In Brene Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong, she advises readers to “stand in their integrity,” which means choosing courage over comfort. The workplace and the world is full of self-doubters. The comfortable moves when self-doubt is present in relationships is to lash out, pick a fight, or take it out on someone less threatening. Many people choose those. The courageous move is to recognize self-doubt in yourself and others, address it, and stand in your integrity. These five little steps take a great deal of practice and introspection. They don’t come naturally and are not comfortable. But if you’re willing to do them, you’ll enjoy richer, more authentic professional relationships that will improve your ability to lead and succeed.

Jen called Evan into her office the following morning. “Evan, I apologize for blowing you off and responding rudely to you yesterday. I was disappointed about the way a meeting went, and I took it out on you. Do you still need help with your proposal?” Jen said. “No problem,” Evan said sincerely. “I know the meeting was important to you. I’m sorry it didn’t go your way. Anita and I finished the proposal, so we’re good.” Jen smiled and made a mental note to thank Anita for covering for her. Evan left, and Jen began reviewing some of the questions the board asked yesterday. Based on their feedback, she began brainstorming her next idea. Jen wasn’t going to allow self-doubt to ruin her relationships or keep her from taking risks.

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