Building Confidence

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, February, 2017


Paul was ready to give up his search for an entry-level graphic design job. He had participated in a dozen telephone screening interviews over the course of five months. However, he was never invited for an in-person interview. During the screenings his lack of self-confidence overwhelmed him. He would begin thinking negative thoughts such as, “No one will hire me,” and “I’m not good enough.” He was then unable to explain his capabilities to employers.

“Should I just beg an employer to hire me?” he asked at our first coaching session. (I told him no!)

Sarah’s low confidence was impacting her productivity at work. Each time her supervisor pointed out a minor error, or suggested a more efficient way to complete a task, Sarah panicked. “She doesn’t think I can handle this job,” Sarah thought. Her anxiety slowed down her work, and she began missing deadlines.

Lack of confidence was getting in the way of Paul and Sarah being successful. This can be a problem for anyone. However, Paul’s Asperger’s Syndrome and Sarah’s NLD made them particularly susceptible. Both had been bullied at school when they were children. As adults, they struggled each day to understand the behaviors and expectations of other people. These experiences chipped away at their self-esteem.

Paul and Sarah were surprised when I explained that they could project self-assurance even if they were not feeling self-confident. Many neurotypicals do this at work to manage how others perceive them. Employers want employees who are confident in their abilities. Often, the very act of projecting confidence enables an individual to begin being more self-assured.

Paul was concerned that self-confidence would make him appear arrogant, but this is not the case. Arrogant people have an exaggerated opinion of their ability, importance, or the significance of their accomplishments. They consider themselves superior (and usually are not).

These are suggestions for building and projecting confidence during job interviews and at work:

Set realistic goals and expectations. Striving for a goal that you cannot attain will lower your confidence. Check that you have, or can acquire, the knowledge, skills and resources needed to achieve your aim. Be sure that your expectations are reasonable, or you will become frustrated.

Go for small wins. Success builds confidence. Set yourself up to succeed with small, manageable goals.

Use confident body language. Smile and look people in the eye when you greet them. Make a firm handshake. Speak in a clear voice, and not too quickly. Do not fiddle with your hair or objects, or make exaggerated gestures.

Avoid qualifiers. These are phrases that diminish the conviction of what you say or write: “I thought that maybe…”; or “I may be wrong, but…” or “This is probably a crazy idea… .” Use definitive language: “My plan is…” or “The direction I propose is… .”

Let go of perfection. “Perfect” is an impossible standard. Some of my clients resist trying new things because they might make a mistake. However, mistakes are how people learn. It is also important to put mistakes into the proper perspective. Most errors are not catastrophic. If you make a mistake, do not blame others or make excuses. Find a solution and move on to something else.

Practice. Just reading or thinking about how to do something won’t build your skill. Plan consistent practice periods. Several short periods are usually more effective than one, marathon session. For example, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and practice how you will greet an interviewer. Do this twice a day for a seven-day period and then assess your progress.

Building confidence is a process that happens over time. Paul spent several weeks practicing for interviews, and gradually become more self-assured. Whereas previously he had never made it past an initial telephone screening, within 6 weeks he had two in-person interviews. Sarah began replacing her negative thinking with positive, self-affirming statements (“My boss’ suggestions are making me more efficient”). Two months later she received a positive performance review.

Copyright 2017, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching