The confidence gap at work is often a gaping chasm

The confidence gap

In the most basic terms, “the confidence gap” refers to differences between women and men; that was from a 2014 story in The Atlantic. I also think it might be a book. I’m not going to discuss the confidence gap along gender lines, per se. Rather, I want to talk about the self-doubt that creeps into all corners of an organization. This is also called the “I am a failure” problem of work, or simply the fear of not being good enough.

The confidence gap is very real. It’s everywhere. And that’s pretty logical: people spend a lot of time at work. They derive self-worth from work. But “work” as a concept often doesn’t respect the individual back; you can call that “lack of reciprocity” or simply “chimp rape.” So you spend a good portion of the middle of your life at a place where maybe you don’t always feel competent or relevant. That’s, uh, not good.

Can we fix the confidence gap?

The confidence gap and MIT research

Long deep dive article on self-doubt here from MIT. You get a little ways down the article, and you find this chart:

The Confidence Gap project planning

So we’ve got four aspects of a project, and each one has a bunch of self-doubt triggers. Those four aspects are priorities, leadership, delivery, and messaging. Ruh roh.

Priority management is very bad at most companies.

Leadership is unfortunately also often a train wreck.

Delivery, because of poor priorities/leadership, would be “same.”

And let’s not even get going on communication in the workplace.

This is where the confidence gap begins.

So what do we do?

Well, based on that chart, you’d need:

  • Clear priorities
  • Strong leadership
  • Well-articulated delivery timelines
  • Better communication

Those aren’t walking through the door at most offices anytime soon. So what’s our game plan here? What’s our “strategy?”

How to approach the confidence gap

Let’s roll:

Fix your hiring process: It’s a train wreck and likely alienating the best potential candidates. You can’t have good people in the door if your hiring process is a cluster mess.

Also fix your onboarding process: This will give people a greater connection to the work, and the perceived priority, earlier in their time with the company.

Re-adjust your managers: There’s too much “Let me start a fire to prove my own worth” stuff at the managerial level. Middle managers are often crippling the bottom lines of companies. A lot of their “checking boxes” work could be re-assigned to some piece of technology, which would free them up to set priorities and develop people.

Also re-adjust your senior managers: No task work bullshit here. Set strategies, build relationships, maintain a revenue focus. Please don’t be line-editing sales docs. Not worth it.

Have empathy for how people like to communicate: Crucial, and often overlooked in companies.

Avoid shiny objects: They just distract you, and harm your business.

All of this is easier said than done, but it’s the road map — HA! — to bridging the confidence gap at work.

My name is Ted Bauer. I blog here pretty much daily, be it about the confidence gap or whatever else, and I can also write and do some projects for you.

Ted Bauer