“People don’t argue with their own data” (James P. Lewis, “The Project Manager’s Desk Reference).

Many managers, even with good teams often think, “If I could just get them to realize how good they are, they would be even more successful. They could really blow the doors off of their sales! But, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I tell them how great they are; it just doesn’t seem to sink in. I wish I could help them become more confident.”

As a manager, you can help your team become more confident; but you cannot do it with praise alone. How many of us hear a compliment and say, “Thanks!” and then go about our business without ever really accepting (much less processing) the compliment?

Here are a couple of things to try instead when coaching for confidence:

Don’t Give Them Praise

Instead of just praising your team members, try asking them questions that reveal to them, and help them to articulate, their strengths and qualities.

Here’s an example: We’re all familiar with coach-the-coach development, where a coach observes managers who are learning how to coach and then coaches them on their coaching. One such session recently, the coach was observing a manager coach one of her employees. During the exchange, the manager asked a brilliant coaching question of her rep. In the coaching session afterward, the coach asked the manager, “At one point, you asked Jane about … and I’m curious: What was your intent behind the question?”

As the manager explained, the coach affirmed and validated her and then continued the exploration, asking, “And how was it effective in helping Jane move forward?” With this question, the coach helped the manager understand her own effectiveness, which will help her build capacity in the future.

One note: If you do give praise (and there’s nothing wrong with it! Most people don’t hear enough praise), make it specific, and turn it into an exploration. No one really processes generic praise.

Confidence Comes From Doing and Achieving

You don’t gain confidence by sitting on the bench watching the ball game!

Help your reps have mini-wins, especially if they are trying to tackle a large challenge. Help them break it down into manageable segments that they can tackle. Here’s the critical part: When they tackle it, help them see that they did it, help them celebrate it and help them extract learning from it.

Here are some questions you might ask:

    • What did they learn about themselves?
    • What did they learn about their ability to face a challenge?
    • How did they grow by taking on something new?
    • What new skills or behaviors did they acquire?
    • How will those skills or behaviors help them in the future?

This process helps build resiliency, confidence and the courage to take on bigger challenges in the future.

Here’s another example: A manager was in the process of completing multiple coaching sessions with a coach-the-coach trainer. The manager shared with her “coaching coach” that one of the ways their coaching sessions had been most helpful was that she experienced a huge increase in her confidence.

The coach asked her what had caused that shift, and she explained that she had never been good at accepting compliments. They’d never meant that much to her.

Then, she said, “You don’t give me compliments. You help me give myself compliments. You help me explore what I do well and why it’s effective and even what I can do with it in the future. You ask me questions in such a way that the positive feedback comes from me, and because of that, I believe it.”

This outcome is exactly what the coach had wanted. The goal is for the manager to be able to self-evaluate and affirm for herself what she does well, long after their coaching relationship ends.

Of course, self-evaluation doesn’t run just one way (all positive). This manager, in the course of a few short months, can tell me with tremendous accuracy what she does well, where she struggles and what she can (needs) to do to work through the struggle.

Because it’s all her data, not only does she not argue with it, but she runs with it! Her level of motivation is high, in spite of a rapidly changing and somewhat difficult work environment. I know that by the time we meet again next month, whatever she said she wanted to work on, she will have tackled triumphantly.

As a manager, you have the power to help your employees build confidence. If you can help them enhance their confidence by even 10%, imagine what they will be able to achieve.