How to Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence and Authority

It finally happened. No more supporting roles only for me. A director cast me as a lead. 

At one of our early read-throughs, the director turned to me and asked, “Why do you keep doing that?”

“Doing what?” I questioned. 

“Your voice goes up at the end of your sentences.”

Huh. News to me. 

I did not make my voice rise at the end of my sentence on purpose; it wasn’t a conscious choice. Had I spent years turning the period at the end of my sentences into question marks?

For the production, I had to change quickly. The same held true off of the stage. Speaking with authority meant communicating my convictions, so people knew I meant it, not sounding as if I doubted my words the second they came out of my mouth. 

Are You Speaking in Question Marks or Embodying Your Confidence and Authority?

Last week I listened to a client during a coaching session. The words they said were: “I can do it.” 

The huge question mark I heard from their voice going up at the end of their statement said: “Maybe I can do it. I’m not sure. I guess I’ll say it because I know I’m supposed to, but we’ll see.” Talk about sabotaging your confidence!

“Do you believe what you’re saying?”

“I do,” they said, and it sounded a lot more like, “I do?”

It was clear that as much as we needed to work on what kept them stuck, they also needed awareness of their tendency to “upspeak.” Upspeak is when someone’s tone rises at the end of their sentence turning statements into questions. 

How to Know if You’re Sabotaging Your Confidence and Authority with Upspeak?

Ask a few people you trust. 

Depending on your level in the organization, the people around you may hesitate to provide you feedback even when asked. Reach out to the truth-tellers at work and in your personal life and inquire: “When I speak, do I frequently sound like I’m asking a question when I’m clearly not asking one?”

Record yourself speaking. 

Maybe you have a presentation to practice, or perhaps you can watch the playback of a recorded Zoom call. You can always pull out your phone or laptop, grab a book, hit record, and start reading. 

Even without recording, what do you notice?

Maintain an awareness of your speaking, paying attention to your intonation. Pay attention with family, colleagues, on conference calls, and in person. 

When you catch yourself in upspeak, what’s happening internally?

For some, upspeak is a habit, and they use it frequently. However, for many, upspeak is an indication of their internal state; confidence lagging their voice goes up. 

What did you discover? Ask yourself: 

Do I need to make a change in both my inner life and external communication?

Am I mirroring the way of speaking of the people around me?

Do I sound like I believe what I’m saying?

When I am making a statement, do people often respond to me as if I’ve asked a question?

Climbing the Change Ladder – The Four Stages of Competence

Change is not a light switch. We don’t flick the switch and declare ourselves fully entrenched in our new behaviors or thoughts. Change is a lot more like climbing a staircase. 

Whether you’re working on an organizational change program or making a personal change in your life or leadership, we all climb the same staircase. 

Unconscious Incompetence

Conscious Incompetence

Conscious Competence

Unconscious Competence

Bottom line is that you will never change what you’re unaware that you’re doing. 

If you are a chronic or even periodical upspeaker but have no idea, you’re on the first step. You may be sabotaging your confidence and authority and have no idea you’re doing it. As soon as you develop awareness, you’re already on step two. That’s when the hard work kicks in – developing new habits and creating lasting change. 

The Way You Communicate Establishes Your Leadership Presence

Your voice expresses your confidence and authority and determines your leadership presence. Do not sabotage your career prospects by convincing yourself it’s acceptable, or you’ve always used upspeak, and nobody told you to stop. 

If you are ready to step more fully into your confidence and authority, the staircase is there for you to climb. Be prepared, it’s unlikely to be a sprint, but it’s worth taking the first step. 

Related: What Happens When You Hire an Expert Who isn’t an Expert?