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Developing confidence in others


A large proportion of people complain about a lack of confidence. Rich Lucas considers the effect this can have on training, and provides a few tips on how to boost participants' confidence.

Ask someone to name three good traits about themselves and they will struggle. But ask them to tell you about the negative aspects of their personality and you can be there all day! This might be due to the British 'stiff upper lip', or perhaps because we don't want to appear cocky or arrogant. Maybe we don't want to look stupid if we get things wrong; or perhaps we really don't feel confident.

Whatever the reason, it's a problem: in the modern business environment lack of confidence in skills impacts on performance, innovation, leadership and career progression. Learning and development professionals train a large number of people who don't put the skills they've learned into action because they don't feel confident enough.

When we design a training course, it is relatively easy to control and measure elements such as skills and knowledge, but not attitude and personal motivation. You can teach a delegate all the skills and techniques you want, but if they are not confident enough to use them, it’s all been a waste of time.

"If a person can be confident in one aspect of their lives, it's possible to be confident in another"

This is true in the field of call centre training - where I work - as well as many other sectors, including most types of skills base training and leadership training - particularly with newly-appointed managers.

So how do L&D professionals develop confidence in others? There are a number of strategies that can help.

Don’t put people into boxes

No one is either confident or unconfident. We are all sure of ourselves in some situations and less certain in others. We tend to draw conclusions about people based on our perception of their behaviour and demeanour. But the executive who is known for his slick presentation and negotiating style might fall to pieces in an unstructured networking session. Similarly, the admin clerk who wouldn’t say 'boo' to a goose between the hours of nine and five might take care of her family with all the confidence of a head of state. It's important to keep in mind that if a person can be confident in one aspect of their lives, it's possible to be confident in another.

Choose the right training style

Most of us are aware of the Honey and Mumford learning styles of activist, pragmatist, theorist and reflector. Taking an activist training style with a group of reflectors can damage attempts to build up their confidence. Make sure your training session appeals to each different learning style. Make time for practical exercises, reading, process mapping and so on, to engage everyone on their level.

"Learning and development professionals train a large number of people who don't put the skills they've learned into action because they don't feel confident enough"

Adjust your communication style

Consider the people in the group and choose your style of communication carefully - both on a group and individual level. For example, you would communicate differently with a group of 20-something sales reps than with a group of 50-something admin clerks. Speaking to someone too sharply can knock their confidence.

Get your delegates to think confidently

Make delegates list their greatest achievements. Ask them to consider each achievement and how confident they felt beforehand. For example, if someone's greatest achievement was managing a difficult team through a difficult time, ask them how they felt when they were initially given this task, compared to how they felt afterwards. The chances are that the delegate felt nervous, uncertain and experienced doubt in themselves before starting. However, as their successes built up, so did their confidence.

Encourage practice outside the training room

A delegate may experience initial excitement after a session if they've made progress, but real confidence is built by achieving regular small successes, occasionally failing, then having the courage to try it again and succeed. To build a muscle it has to be exercised, to build confidence, it needs to be developed through practice.

To encourage this, provide delegates with an action plan and ongoing support. Too many trainers deliver on the day, but do little or nothing to follow it up. Ultimately, people must develop their own confidence, but as trainers we can give them a helping hand along the way.

Rich Lucas is director of Supremacy Training Solutions, specialists in off the shelf ready to deliver training. For more information visit


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