What Does Being “Other” Do to Our Confidence?
Over the years I’ve had a disproportionate number of clients who are foreign, or children of immigrants, and I am often hired for the international teams in organizations. It doesn’t surprise me. As a child of immigrants, I’ve just assumed people sense a shared experience and are drawn to me because of it. In my life, people have often said, “Wow, you are so lucky! You speak three languages, you can travel anywhere….” Mostly I think it’s the dream of being able to sit in a Paris cafe and order in unaccented French, without the waiter responding in English.
What they don’t see is the challenge of growing up outside a culture. Culture is foundational, and knowing its rules is key to our sense of security. A French colleague once asked, “Claire, can you help me? People keep saying, “Hi (Name), how are you?!’ And when I begin to tell them, they can’t back away fast enough.” I had to explain that Americans say “How ya doin’?” as part of a greeting, but the only real answer is “Good, you?” and keep moving. A story like that is funny as a grownup. Anyone reading who has shared my experience will likely say that it’s harder when you are a kid. Kids need rules and guidelines, and when those vary depending on company and situation, it is stressful and disorienting. It can create enormous self-doubt.
Almost all of us feel “other” for one reason or another. Culture, gender, race, previous affiliation to a different organization, different ideas on how to proceed at work…just not being part of “the club.” What can happen is that when the majority thinks one way, self-doubt can make us feel like we are wrong. And that can really hurt confidence.
What if we didn’t doubt ourselves. In my group work, one of the biggest “aha’s” is the realization that everyone else is going through the same thing. So, what if instead of right and wrong, we focused on influencing our environment, being vulnerable, and having conversations that allow for a diversity of thinking and feeling, without judgment. Really learning to explain ourselves (yes, our feelings).
Studies show that the most effective teams are the ones where team members feel safe and can show vulnerability.
Here are two of my favorite books on the subject of influence. When you can influence your environment better, you can stand in your feelings, which reduces self-doubt: Influence and People Style at Work. In the meantime, this week would you try sharing a bit of yourself? Maybe you don’t think your boss’s goals are realistic, maybe you feel nervous before seeing a client, maybe (fill in the blank). The point is that we each have different reasons for occasional self-doubt, and they are all OK.
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