Dealing with lack of confidence in a coachee

How to help a coachee develop their confidence

Who is this article for?

  • Senior leaders and line managers who coach their teams
  • Professional coaches looking to enhance their skills
  • HR professionals seeking to help coachees overcome barriers

From time to time we all face situations in which we feel a lack of confidence in our ability to do something well, a sense that we will show up badly, or in some way tarnish our image or reputation. We might feel embarrassed or shy, unclear of our objectives, have a sense of being less worthy or deserving than others, and be unable to truly enjoy life to the full.

Having a lack of confidence becomes a significant blocker to being fully functioning and effective, and is a common theme that I notice coachees bring into the coaching.

Lack of confidence arises from a lack of self-esteem or self-regard. Individuals with low self-esteem often attribute their successes to luck, or they will downplay their achievements by discounting them as being easy to achieve or not important or impactful. Such individuals may feel like a fake, and feel that it’s only by luck that their inadequacies and incompetence have not yet been discovered, leading to a fear that they may be ‘found out’. This sense of inadequacy and lack of ability to internalise their true accomplishments is often called impostor syndrome.

So how might we as coaches approach this issue? There are several coaching approaches that could be useful for the coachee to work on these areas, and a few of these are mentioned below. There are also many further sources for exercises and techniques for coaching a lack of confidence available on the internet.

Firstly though, as coaches, we must be clear on our contract with the coachee and understand our own level of competence in regard to coaching self-confidence issues. We should be aware of the territory we may be moving into with the coachee when working in this domain, as there are three levels to be aware of.

Level One – that which is beneath

We all carry our past experiences with us, and some of these experiences from childhood and youth remain profoundly affecting into adult life, even at an unconscious level, and may have a powerful impact on our self-esteem. If the contract is for coaching, then it is not a contract for psychotherapy or counselling, unless explicitly agreed upon and within the competence of the coach.

Level Two – that which is behind

Most coachees are generally healthy coping adults, and who, given the opportunity for personal reflection and raised self-awareness, will have the capacity to appreciate, appraise and evaluate their own narrative and self-talk. At this level, coaches can work with individuals to understand what beliefs might be driving their lack of confidence, and what emotions those beliefs engender. This Level Two coaching can be very revealing and powerful without becoming too analytical or therapeutic but does require boundary management skills from the coach.

Level Three – that which is before

As the coachee begins to appreciate the drivers lying behind their lack of self-confidence, the coach can help them work on strategies that will build their esteem and enact behavioural change to allow the coachee to show up more confidently in specific situations.

This is the new ‘face’ that the coachee will be showing before the world. At this level, the coach may suggest daily practices, exercises or role play as ways of embedding new behaviours. The required commitment from the coachee would be to take more risks (involving potential ‘exposure’ or embarrassment) in order to develop resilience, and this will require a balance of appropriate challenge and support from the coach.

Coaches can contract and work effectively at Levels Two and Three with the coachees' confidence issues. Only trained therapists should contract at Level One, and in this case, it is not a coaching contract but a therapeutic one.

Some techniques to overcome a lack of confidence in a coachee

Assuming that the coach is clear they are working at Level Two or Level Three, then there are a number of approaches and techniques they can adopt to help the coachee, a few of which are described below:

Self-Confidence Review

This simple coaching approach can be initially a written exercise, followed by a coaching conversation.

Ask the coachee to complete a brief questionnaire comprising such questions as:

  • What does self-confidence mean to you?
  • When does your lack of confidence show up/in what situations? Give examples.
  • Rate your confidence level on a scale of 1-10 and where would you like it to be?
  • What would success look like, and what strengths or attributes do you need to develop to get to that point?
  • What are your current mechanisms for coping? How can you enhance these?

Go through the coachees' answers in conversation with them to draw out more detail and build a relevant action plan.

Ellis’s ABCDE OF Rational-Emotive Behaviour

This technique is drawn from Ellis’s work in the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and can be used in coaching in a light-touch way.

The ABCDE mnemonic stands for:

A – Activating agent (a problem, a stressor, an emotional trigger, a concern etc)

B – Belief system (challenge counter-productive or limited belief systems)

C – Consequences of A and B emotionally (rumination, self-fulfilling prophesies)

D – Disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs (replace negative, unrealistic thinking with

more realistic and adaptive appraisal of problem situations)

E – Cognitive and emotional effects of revised beliefs (practical action to solve the problem or has a less troublesome reaction to the situation)

Working through this simple five-step process with the coachee can help them identify where they are making illogical or irrational assumptions about circumstances and enable them to work on strategies to replace these with more positive and enabling thoughts.

Confidence Wall

The coach can work with the coachee to help them reflect on their achievements and then to build a ‘confidence wall’ which is simply a list of their core beliefs and achievements under the headings:

Values – what are your core beliefs/what is important to you?

Skills and Attributes – what do people admire about you/what are you great at?

Tangible Achievements – exams and education/awards/successfully completed projects?

Intangible Achievements – things you are proud of/feel good about/good things said to you?

Encourage the coachee to think of as many things as they can, no matter how small. Treat the exercise as a continual ‘work in progress’ which the coachee should add to whenever they think of something positive or affirming about themselves or their achievements.

The intention is to help the coachee realise that they have many positive attributes, achievements and skills that are already recognised by themselves and others and which they can build on with encouragement.

In addition to such techniques as those outlined above, the coach should be encouraging the coachee to be aware of, and work on, simple things which can make a big difference to their levels of confidence.

A list of such things might include:

  • Presentation, posture and appearance: being well groomed and appropriately dressed can aid confidence
  • Smiling and making eye contact are indicators of a self-confident person
  • Complimenting others and finding/acknowledging positives in what others are doing
  • Playing to strengths and doing more of what they are good at
  • Being very clear about what they want to achieve and what success will look like
  • Practicing and role playing for upcoming events and plan for worst case scenarios
  • Developing the habit of perseverance

Using a multi-faceted approach such as this, coaching can make a significant impact on the coachees self-esteem and confidence, and give them practical ways to grow their confidence day-by-day.

Programmes and support from Coaching Focus

Coaching for Confidence Masterclass

A Guide to Coaching Skills Development

May 2022 - ILM Qualification Programme