July 24, 2017

To Build a Better Workplace Reputation, Balance Humility and Confidence

finishPeople consistently name “confidence” as the most important key to making a good impression in the workplace. It makes sense: We like to work with individuals who feel strongly about their convictions and can be counted on to drive efforts forward.

That being said, I personally don’t believe that confidence – though essential – is the most important quality for making a strong impression. Rather, I’d argue that confidence should come second to humility.

Fortunately, humility and confidence are complementary, and both are essential characteristics of a strong contributor in the workplace. Being too confident or too humble can be counterproductive, leading to mistakes and/or stalled work. However, when they come together in the right proportions, humility and confidence make it possible to build relationships and make excellent impressions.

For instance, I’ve worked in environments where everyone clung to their predefined opinions about things, no matter what colleagues in other departments were saying. In such cultures of “no comprise,” new hires will notice what is considered “winning” and behave accordingly. In the long term, this is a losing proposition.

On the other hand, I’ve also experienced more inclusive environments where people get on with humble confidence. In these places, wins are not personal but team- and company-oriented. These environments tend to produce superior business results.

Striking the perfect balance between humility and confidence is more easily said than done. Doing so requires knowing when to slow down and step back from a situation before acting. When I run into dissenting opinions at work, I suspend judgment and take a two-pronged approach: I seek to listen and to understand.

Listen Carefully to Everyone

First, I listen completely to all opinions on the subject. While this sounds elementary, it’s something of which we need to be reminded on a regular basis. Studies have found that, after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average person only remembers 50 percent of what was said. Our listening skills are not as good as we think they are!

You can’t make important decisions when you have only heard and understood a fraction of someone’s perspective. By taking the time to listen completely to all dissenting opinions, you equip yourself with the knowledge you need to make the most well-informed decision.

That being said, the most-informed decision is not always the right one. However, an added bonus of this listening-based strategy is that it provides a trail of bread crumbs behind whatever decision is eventually made.

Understand What They’re Saying

Once I’ve heard all contributors’ views completely, I do my best to understand the roots of their views.

Start by defining the common goal. Once this is done, it is possible to fine-tune for alignment with each contributor’s point of view or identify the reasons why there are dissenting views.

Dissenting views can be the result of many things: deadlines, career experience, personalities, etc. When contributors approach a disagreement with humility, setting aside their differences and seeking the best solution to the problem, teams are far more productive. Contributors who lead in this manner are praised for their ability work constructively across teams. These are the individuals who rise to the top.

While confidence can get your foot in the door, effective problem-solving and quantifiable results keep you there.

To build a positive reputation across the workplace, approach all situations with humility and open-mindedness. Building such a reputation will ensure that your good first impressions become lasting impressions.

Lori Mitchell-Keller is global general manager of consumer industries at SAP.

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Lori Mitchell-Keller is global general manager of consumer industries at SAP. In this role, she leads the retail, wholesale distribution, consumer products, and life sciences industries with a strong focus on helping SAP customers transform their businesses and derive value while getting closer to their customers. Mitchell-Keller brings more than 25 years of experience in the software and consumer goods industries, including more than fifteen years as an executive driving business strategy while building strong and sustainable relationships with customers, partners, financial analysts, and industry experts.