Author Archives: Katty Kay

The Confidence Code Blog Q&A

Katty Kay
Tired Young Business Woman With Laptop At The Office

Q: I have a question about the “face failure” advice  given to me after I took your confidence survey…

What if I suspect that I am addicted to failure?  That I often go after big challenges just to prove to myself that I can’t hack it?  I am prone to self-sabotage and the little successes to fuel big successes just make my want to throw up.  All I do is try and tell myself, “Do your best, just get it done, try and see what happens, it’s a learning process,” etc, but it is exhausting.

A: This is such an interesting question. It is rare to get someone talk to us, especially a woman, who thinks they fail too much. How about this? Fail fast. This is a new techie buzz term that encourages people to risk lots of small failures, rather than one colossal one. The theory is that in this hyper fast world there isn’t time to perfect an idea over 5 years, you’re better off putting out lots of ideas, each of which you’ve only spent a bit of time on. Many will fail, but one may well succeed. And those that fail, well, you haven’t spent too much time on them anyway, so the failure doesn’t seem so crushing. That’s where you come in. Maybe you are investing too much time, energy and perfectionism in your endeavors and then when you fail it is all the more sickening. This whole idea has a double benefit, gets you tougher about failure AND gives you more chances of success.

Also how about keeping a log? It’d be interesting to see whether you really are failing as spectacularly and as often as you think. And at the same time, you could keep a note of your successes. We bet there are more than you think – clock them up, the everyday little things that you succeed at, a meeting that goes well, an interaction with a stranger, a phone call you found hard, and see if you aren’t ignoring achievements that can build your confidence.


Thank you!

Katty Kay
photo 2-2

Publishing a book is indeed a bit like having a baby. There are weeks and weeks of preparation, telling friends and family and buying stuff (new outfits for the TV shows, (tech) toys to deal with the launch and energy bars to keep you going) and then the big day finally arrives and you are so exhausted you can barely take it all in.

But, we are also so grateful and overwhelmed by the support of people you know and people you’ve never met that you float through the day on a haze of adrenalin and eyebags.

That’s how Claire and I feel today.

We just want to say thank you to all of you for supporting The Confidence Code. We are thrilled by the conversation the book is generating. So many women, and men, have told us the book resonates with their own experiences and we are grateful to all of you for sharing your feedback.

We are especially thrilled that so many of you have taken the confidence quiz and joined what we hope is going to be a real contribution to research in this field. This is a first and we had no idea it would be such a popular tool. Three thousand people had taken the confidence quiz by the end of the first day (and the book wasn’t even published then), as I write this over six thousand of you have! Wow. Thank you thank you. All of this will help researchers better understand and address the confidence gap between men and women and we are so excited that you are all part of that.

Now – back to that book launch….

NATS and how to kill them

Katty Kay
Young lonely woman on bench in park

NATS (negative automatic thoughts) are big confidence killers for women. You know them. “I should have done x…” “Why did I say y?…” “That paper wasn’t as good as it could have been…”

Women are particularly prone to NATS. We think we make one tiny mistake and we dwell on it for hours and hours. We can’t let it go. Sometimes we are still swirling those insidious, negative thoughts round our brains for days or even weeks after the perceived slip up. And it kills our confidence.

Men don’t seem to do this nearly as much as we do. They are better at simply swatting those irritating thoughts away.

Since moving on doesn’t come as easily to us, we need a system for killing NATS.

3 to 1. That’s our formula. Three positive thoughts to one negative thought.

Every time the negative thought sneaks into your brain, you need to remind yourself of three good things you did.

So, imagine this scenario, you’re sitting on the bus on the way home and you keep thinking of that proposal deadline you missed by half an hour. As soon as the thought crops up, force your brain to list three good things you did that day. I was helpful to Angela who’s just joined the team. The conclusion of my report was really strong. I called my mother-in-law and cancelled dinner, even though I’d been dreading the confrontation.

Now just one go round won’t kill the NAT – far from it. This takes work. A few minutes later that missed deadline will rear its ugly head again. And so you repeat the 3 successes again. And again. And again. 3 to 1. Keep going.

Eventually you will wipe out that negative thought. This exercise does work because it puts the minor failure in perspective. It reminds you that while you may have had one set back, you also had a triumph. Even better, if you keep doing this, and make it part of your mental routine, you will train your brain to think differently.  Scientists call this brain plasticity – the ability to physically change our brains so they work differently. For women in search of confidence tricks, plasticity is great news.

On confidence, pay, negotiating and the Texas GOP

Katty Kay
Business - businesspeople have a meeting with presentation in of

The Republican Party in Texas has waded into a swarm of gender controversy over the issue of equal pay for women. “Men are better negotiators,” stated Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party said on YNN’s “Capital Tonight.” “I would encourage women, instead of pursuing the courts for action, to become better negotiators.”

(Believe it or not she was trying to clean up an earlier gender misstep by a colleague. I’m not sure who does the communication for the Texas GOP, or the gender outreach program, but maybe there needs to be a staffing rethink.)

Ms. Cubriel was wrong to suggest women shouldn’t seek legal action if and when they are being discriminated against because of their gender. That’s what courts are for. But she did have a point when she said men are better negotiators.

A multitude of studies now show that women don’t negotiate as much as men do, specifically on the issue of pay.

Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask, has studied the real-life impact of the confidence gap. She found, in studies of business-school students, that men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do.

At Manchester Business School, in England, Professor Marilyn Davidson has looked at the same problem, and agrees that it stems from a lack of confidence. Each year she asks her students what they expect to earn, and what they deserve to earn, five years after graduation. “I’ve been doing this for about seven years,” she said, “and every year there are massive differences between the male and female responses.” On average, she says, the men think they deserve $80,000 a year and the women $64,000 – or 20 percent less.

Rutgers University has come up with similar studies. They all suggest that women don’t go into their bosses and demand their financial due as easily or frequently as men do. It is possible that women don’t put as much store by the dollar amount on their salaries, but Claire and I think something else is going on. Women lack the confidence to ask for what we deserve.

All the evidence suggests we have absolutely no reason for this confidence deficit. We are better educated than men and just as competent. But somehow we don’t like to upset the apple cart by asking for more. Why? Well, asking for more makes us feel we are being difficult, that we’re not being “good girls.” We don’t want to risk making our employers mad at us. Maybe even, deep down, we don’t believe we are as valuable as we are.

If we are going to close the salary gap we need courts and we need better policies but we also need to believe in our own value and have the confidence to ask for what we deserve. After all, what’s the very worst that can happen? Your bosses might say no. But there’s also a good chance they won’t. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

What is Confidence Anyway?

Katty Kay

We all think we know confidence when we see it. It’s what the person who speaks first and longest at the office meeting has. It’s what your friend who always seems so sure of their opinions has. It’s there in the who-cares-that-my-last-10-ideas-were-shot-down,-I’ll-just-propose-another attitude of that slightly irritating new hire.

When we started this project we assumed this was confidence. It was an attitude, a mindset, if you like, of bravura. And there was something about it that felt pretty foreign to us. It seemed like you had to be a jerk to be confident – or at least confident in that way.

But the more we talked to the psychologists and neurologists who make the study of confidence their life’s work, the more we came to the realization that we were wrong. Our early assessment of what this elusive quality is, was off target.

Confidence isn’t about throwing your weight around or talking over people or always being the first to jump in. Confidence isn’t an attitude at all. You know that old expression about something being all in your head? Well, when it comes to confidence the opposite is true. Confidence is about the actions you take not the postures you strike.

Having confidence is taking action. We all want to do or try certain things but fear they are just beyond our reach and yet we worry about failing. Those nerves are normal – everyone has them. The difference between a confident person and an unconfident person is simply that the confident person acts on their ambitions and desires and who does let that fear of failure stop them.

And the notion of confidence as action is a virtuous circle. The more we act, the more our confidence grows. We try something, and the next time round we feel a little bit easier about trying it again. Even if we fail we have learned something valuable, namely that taking the risk of trying didn’t kill us. That’s useful, confidence building knowledge.

We spent a long time trying to define confidence because we felt that it would be easier to grow it if we really knew what is was. In the end we came to this conclusion: confidence is life’s enabler – it is the quality that turns thoughts into action.

Confidence VS Self-Esteem

Katty Kay

What’s the difference between confidence and self esteem? When we started researching this subject we assumed the two were pretty much interchangeable. We were young(er) and naïve back then. The difference between these two qualities is the subject of fierce debate among academics with ferociously committed detractors and supporters on boths sides. Who knew you could go to battle over psychology.

Basically self esteem is the value you see yourself having in the world. “Am I worthwhile human being?” Answer that question with a yes and the chances are you have pretty high self esteem. It’s not a quality that changes very much since it is related to a broad sense of personal value or self worth. If you have high self esteem at work, you probably have it in other areas of your life too, because this is a reflection of how you see yourself. People with high self esteem tend to see the universe as a pretty friendly place.

Confidence, on the other hand, is related to action, it’s a belief that you can succeed at something. Psychologists call it domain specific. So, you can be confident about one area of your life, but totally unconfident about another. “I am confident that I am a good manager but I’m not at all confident about speaking in public.

In many ways it is easier to grow your confidence than your self esteem. Confidence builds by taking action and trying things you find hard, by going outside your comfort zone. If you work at that public speaking, bit by bit, you will become more confident of your abilities. You may never be perfect but that’s not the point, confidence is about facing obstacles and realizing you’re still alive even when you fail.

Obviously there’s a correlation between these two qualities. If you have high self esteem you are likely to be a more confident person too. But not always. Andre Agassi is a classic example of someone who was perfectly confident of their ablity to play great tennis, but was riddled with anxiety in the rest of his life.

The debate stems from a growing belief among psychologists that the self esteem movement of the past couple of decades has been unhelpful. Programs in schools and therapy offices have focused on getting people to believe they were great human beings. Everyone, we were told, was a winner, perfect just as they were. The trouble with that is that just telling people it didn’t build solid self worth, it wasn’t based on a foundation of concrete results. So, the self esteem was fragile.

The virtue of confidence is that it is constructed on solid achievements. Say you want to learn to swim but you don’t believe you will be any good – so you take lessons, practice and sure enough if you put in the effort  and learn to swim. Now, you will never be an Olympic swimmer, but you will learn to swim across the lake. And you have built your confidence because you have mastered a task you found daunting.