Confidence & Language: The Impact of Language on Self-Perception and Personal Brand

Confidence & Language: The Impact of Language on Self-Perception and Personal Brand

Our language shapes our reality. It influences not just how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. Many of us are unaware of the unconscious language patterns that subtly undermine our confidence. 

Ever observed someone apologising unnecessarily, prefacing an inquiry with “this may be a stupid question,” or talking excessively as they seek to find some clarity of the point they want to make? These habits can significantly impact your self-esteem and how others view your competence and confidence.

Why Language Matters

Language is a powerful tool for communication; often we use language habitually without consciously being aware of its impact on ourselves and others. It’s not just about the words we use; it’s about the meaning we create from those words. When we’re unaware of how our language might be undermining us, we risk reducing our confidence, effectiveness, and influence.

Research shows that women are told twice as much as their male colleagues that they need to display more confidence. Some (and we emphasise, some) of this can be traced back to habitual language patterns that diminish self-perception and presence. 

What’s Going On?

Many of us fall into unconscious language habits, especially in high-stakes or nerve-wracking situations. These habits might include:

  • Over-apologising
  • Prefacing an inquiry with “This may be a stupid question, but”
  • Saying yes when you want to say no
  • Worrying excessively about how your message will be received (so you end up saying nothing or waffling)
  • Minimising contributions by the use of ‘just’

Repeated over time, these behaviours become ingrained and often unconscious, influencing your internal confidence and the way others perceive you. 

Confidence Derailers and Red Flags

Becoming aware of language signals and red flags is crucial as they shape your inner confidence (what we call Core Confidence) and can negatively impact your personal brand and professional presence. Often, these habits are unintentional and can be related to fear.

Common Language Red Flags

  • Over-apologizing: Saying sorry when it’s unnecessary
  • Seeking permission: Phrases like “Can I just ask if…..?”
  • Justifying or over-explaining: Providing too much detail unnecessarily
  • Waffling: Taking too long to get to the point (studies show men speak around 7,000 words a day, while women speak about 20,000, some of this is useful – and sometimes it’s nerves or over-explaining, rather than communicating a point)
  • Saying yes too often: Agreeing to help even when they haven’t got capacity

How to Address Language Patterns that Undermine Confidence

To start to shift these undermining language habits try these strategies:

  • Notice Yourself and Others: Become aware of your language patterns and observe others who communicate effectively
  • Start Small: Choose one language habit at a time to change, such as reducing apologies or being more concise
  • Seek Feedback: Ask trusted colleagues or friends to help you identify and work on these habits
  • Embrace Mistakes: Adopt a growth mindset, understanding that mistakes are opportunities to learn
  • Practice Confidence-Enhancing Language:
    • Clarify Your Message: Know what you want to say and outline it succinctly
    • Be Direct: Communicate authentically and clearly
    • Use Silence: Don’t feel the need to fill every pause with words.
    • Practice: Test out new language patterns with trusted individuals. Instead of saying
    • “This might be a stupid question”: Try “Have we thought about…?”
    • “Does this make sense?”: Use “My sense of this is…” or “Another perspective to consider is…”
    • “Can I just ask a question?”: Simply ask the question directly
    • “To be honest with you…”: Say “It’s important that we consider…”
    • “It’s just…”: Use definitive language like “It is…”
    • “I’m sorry to bother you”: Opt for “There’s something I’d like your help with. When do you have a few minutes?”
    • “Sorry, I can’t do that, I’ve got so much on…”: Say “Thanks for the opportunity, but I can’t do that now. I’ll let you know if that changes.”

The Role of Leaders in Supporting Conscious Language Use

Leaders play a critical role in helping women become aware of their language and its impact. Here’s how leaders can support this development:

  • Notice Language Patterns: Pay attention to when and where women use minimizing or self-deprecating language.
  • Coach with Questions: Use insightful questions to help individuals understand the impact of their language.
  • Connect the Dots: Help them see the relationship between their language, how it’s received, and the outcomes it produces.
  • Suggest Alternatives: Provide examples of different ways to express themselves and language patterns to avoid (use the list above with examples).
  • Encourage Practice: Motivate them to try out new language habits in different settings
  • Provide Ongoing Support: Habit change requires on-going checking in and support, give feedback on the progress you notice and see what differences they’re experiencing.
  • Role-Modelling: Demonstrate confidence-enhancing language in your own communication. Share stories of how you’ve overcoming undermining language habits.
  • Resources: If you find that that this is something that needs attention and focus, consider our women in leadership program, Acts of Confidence, where they will learn how to authentically enhance their presence and impact with a community of like-minded professional women.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more, feel free to reach out at