Five ways to reclaim confidence and break free of toxic work cultures

#confidence Mar 20, 2024

TLDR: Instead of covering over your flame of confidence, try these 5 ways to give it oxygen! (scan the headings for the 5 tips).

This morning I answered a LinkedIn message from a woman who wanted to know how to deal with "learned" lack of confidence due to the toxic work culture she lived in. She said this was important because she had to deal, and even sometimes partner, with one of the people who created that toxic culture.

Her question gave me pause because I thought about that word learned, especially because she had mentioned that she had a flame of confidence still burning in her.

And I had this insight. Most of us have a flame of confidence that is either tamped down or brightly shining depending on the layers of protection that we place upon or around it.


1. Ask This Question

And it made me think of this question that my dear friend and colleague, Wendy Hanson, asked me. She asked,

"What would you do if you were brave?"

Which I think is a really good question to ask in a situation where you want to reclaim your confidence and use it to empower an action or a statement.

But there were two other questions that came to mind about her question.

  1. What's the nature of the toxicity? Being ignored is different than being assaulted and I would offer different advice in each situation.
  2. The second made me think of a situation I encountered early in my career. A colleague instigated  a change in the structure of our department that ended up with me reporting to him. If I had known then what I know now, I would have realized that he had  greater strategic acumen than I. But at the time I had absolutely no framework to understand that it was his strategic acumen that got him to get our boss to agree to the change. At the time I believed he was acting out of malice.

Which leads me to the second tip.

2. Learn What You Can

One of the pieces of advice that I gave this woman was to look and see what she could learn from this man who she described as socially adept, charismatic and also very good at managing up.

Being socially adept and managing up well are skills that can be learned. Not the charismatic thing because charisma is in the eyes of the beholders.

Of course, I wouldn't want her to emulate the things that caused her to feel put down and shut down, but the other two attributes, she could learn from him and then deploy in order to be more successful at putting her ideas forth and take off some of those layers of protection.

There were three other tips that I wanted to give her, but needed more feedback on.

  • Confront bias in an educational way.
  • Use her business savvy.
  • Use assertiveness skills, e.g. broken record.

Here is a generic example of each of them.


3. Confront Bias in an Educational Way

Let's say she wants to present an idea or make a recommendation that a process be modified. While in the middle of making her pitch, she gets talked over, or what some of my colleagues call "manterrupted."

If she wanted to call out bias in an educated way, she could say,

"Hey, Bob, thanks for  agreeing with or building on my suggestion. It happens quite frequently to women that  the ideas that they begin talking about are never finished  because someone jumps in. So I'd like to build on what you just said, or add to what you just said, or put a different spin on what you just said, so I can finish my thought"

Not terribly confrontational and it could be done in private.


4. Use Business Savvy

When it comes to using Business Savvy, it could be instead of starting out saying, "Oh, I'd like to change this process in this way. 

Try saying, "Hey! Chris and the rest of the team, I know that our goal is to increase margin for this  product. And one way that we can do that is..." Then put forward the process change.

5. Use Assertiveness Techniques

To use assertiveness, specifically the "broken record" technique, it would look like this:

She puts forth her idea for the process change. She gets interrupted.  She says, "I would like to come back to what I was starting to explain before." She gets talked over. She says, "Again, here's what I'm presenting." Rinse and repeat.

If she adds in the business savvy approach, "Our goal is to increase margins. My recommended process change would do that. So let me explain it in full."

With all of these the goal is to brush the ashes off the embers of our flame of confidence so that it can rise again.

Let's Recap

To be honest, most of us who work in corporations deal with toxic people and toxic cultures. There's one way we deal with it is bank (or cover with ashes) the embers of our confidence in order to protect the originating flame. We don't want it to get burned out or smothered.

Five alternatives to banking the embers are alternatives that add oxygen by removing those layers of self protection include:

  1. Ask, "What would I do if I were brave?"
  2. Learn what we can from the toxic person (it also shifts how you see him).
  3. Educate about bias using non-confrontational. language.
  4. Use Business Savvy to make sure our points are heard and demonstrate it to those who are paying attention.
  5. And deploy assertiveness techniques. In this case, I discussed using the broken record, which is to state the point over and over until it gets clearly heard and acknowledged, even if later it is cut down.

Burn brightly you amazing woman!

Catch you next time,


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