The Confidence Code Q&A – Unlikeable in the office?

Katty Kay
portrait of modern business team inside office building

Q: As a “high confidence” woman (both according to my own personal assessment and your Confidence Quiz), I’m curious as to what your research says about the positives and negatives of being a high confidence women in the business world, and how that confidence affects one’s relationships both with men and with other women in the workplace?

I work in an administrative/management role in a very small office, and I’ve found that sometimes men are taken aback by my confidence and aren’t sure how to react. I recall one conversation with my boss and supervisor where I told them in an enthusiastic and confident (but not forceful) manner that I thought I had “conquered” the main challenges of my job position and would love to take on a bigger project. They reacted as if they had been physically jolted – as if they viewed the word “conquered” as too “violent” to come from a “nice,” friendly, hard working, petite woman. Would they have reacted differently if I were a man using that word? I love a good challenge, whether intellectual or physical, and I love conquering challenges or finding solutions to problems. Is that seen as an anti-feminine trait in the business world?

A: Being high confidence is great. We wish we were! But you are getting at something very interesting and complex, which is how should confident women conduct themselves in the work place. We know from several studies that women who act just like men professionally get penalised – they are seen as unfeminine and unlikeable. And, by the way, that is the reaction of women as well as men. So the art of confidence is how to be confident, how to believe in your abilities and take step up to your full capability, while not behaving like, well, a bit of a jerk. You don’t have to talk loudest and longest, always jump in first, be aggressive. Women are great conciliators, we’re good at listening and bring other people along – keep those qualities but still make your voice heard. As Christine Lagarde, the first female head of the International Monetary Fund, told us, it’s about being authentic.


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