Lacking confidence at work? Writing is your path forward.

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You might be new at work. You might be shy. Maybe you’re just not at your best in person. Learning to write without bullshit could be the best way to boost your career.

We all have an image of the “leaders” at work. They can stand in front of a group and inspire us. They’re smart, capable, and personable. And their careers seem to move ahead very fast. If you’re smart and capable but not personable, how do you get ahead?

In Lean InSheryl Sandberg points out that “people in low-power positions are more hesitant to share their views and often hedge their statements when they do.” I’ve certainly seen this. Someone is capable, skilled, and has insights that we all ought to pay attention to. But in the meeting, it’s the people who talk who get the attention.

Often, the person who doesn’t get their due respect is a woman. I’ve seen this many times: women who have difficulty getting their highly valid points across in an organization filled with swagger.

You could work on those interpersonal skills. Or, you could start by writing better. Start with emails, and continue with reports, project plans, or anything else that comes your way. Here’s why writing will build your confidence more quickly:

  • You get time to think and make an impression. Maybe your writing is timid. That’s curable. Draft something, then go back and cull the passive voice, jargon, and weasel words. Get rid of the timid, apologetic open and start boldly. Think of a clever metaphor or turn of phrase. While that might take an extra half-hour, it means your first impression will be a bold one. It’s a lot easier to edit yourself in writing than in person.
  • That impression will last and spread. Your coworkers will quickly forget that remark you make (or fail to make) in the meeting. But if they like what you said in writing, they’ll forward it to others and refer back to it.
  • Your thinking will be clearer when you do speak up. Once you’ve got your thoughts down in writing, they’ll be organized and clear in your head. When the time comes to express them, you’ll sound thoughtful and polished. Prepare in writing; deliver in conversation. You’ll sound a lot smarter.
  • You’ll come off as genuine. Your boss — or the office blowhard — may be talking about jargon-laden cliches: “economies of scale in a big-data analytical framework,” or the like. That way of talking comes from a lack of discipline in writing and thinking, and whether they acknowledge it or not, is probably confusing the rest of the team. If you come back with “Which data are we talking about, and how will we analyze it?”, everyone in the room will breathe a little easier, because they’ll be back in a world they understand.
  • You’ll develop a habit of confidence. The more you write without bullshit, the easier it gets. The more you speak from that position of confidence, the easier it gets. This is your best path to get past fear and to get a reputation as a clear thinker.

“Be confident” is hard advice to take. But “write better” — that’s definitely a skill you can develop. It’s worth the effort.

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  1. Great post! I’m the person you describe. My writing has helped me immensely in my job at a place filled with lots of big talkers and ‘swagger.’

  2. I agree with all your points, Josh. Here’s another one I’ve found to be super-important… Timing. Timing, as usual, is everything. Sharing my writing and speaking up at the right time makes all the difference, and choosing the wrong time results in a variety of negative consequences. The one commonality in sharing at both the right and wrong times, however, is jealousy. People who don’t choose to think about and work on their writing, their speaking and their timing are frequently jealous of those who do.

    Has that been your experience, too?