Compliments of johnhain from Pixabay

Sara Ban Breathnach describes confidence as a magic elixir, a feeling that enables us to be our best self. Appearing confident is the mental equivalent of elongating our posture — standing straight up so that we can stride forth.

If we receive positive reinforcement, encouragement, gentle nudges and “good jobs,” then displaying confidence should be no problem at all. As Howell (2021) explains in “How to build confidence at work” low self-esteem occurs as a result of incivilities out of our control. These include cringe-worthy childhood memories that cause the recipients to feel “I’m not worthy.” People with low self-esteem experience a double whammy — not just from a dismal childhood, but later from offhanded remarks of people who judge them as “frightened,” “timid,” or “anti-social.” Children who are shamed for sport become adults who find it difficult to speak (Neuharth, 1999).

Like bully bosses who threaten subordinates and derive pleasure from seeing them squirm, overbearing, abusive parents foment children who harbor PTSD, anxiety, perfectionism, and a victim mentality (Neuharth, 1999). Caretaker abuse consists of “name calling” “mocking” “insulting,” “humiliating criticism” “threatening” and “yelling” (Mackowicz, 1999).

Dysfunctional families fail to shower children with love, and to show them they’re precious (Mackowicz, 1999); on the contrary, they belittle childrens’ value by a hypervigilant scrutiny–always on the lookout for missteps. To a punishing parent self-advocacy (from children) is seen as insubordination – a deliberate flouting of their role as parent and an intentional form of disrespect (Neuharth, 1999). Subservience creates adults who fold when they experience conflict and freeze when feel attacked. Bullied children are prime targets for predators at work. Emotionally, mentally, and verbally abused children are taught their needs/thoughts and desires are unimportant. A motto of Barry-Wehmiller is “Everyone is somebody’s precious child.” When children suffer abuse from too much mental whipping they feel (for a lifetime) at the mercy of others.

Authors Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson (1989) suggest an atmosphere of “mutual respect” “as if a child were a friend of the family” should reign inside homes. Children thrive when they have freedom to fail, when they receive unconditional love, when they can disagree (without the label of insurrectionist) and when they feel acceptance on something other than achievement or how their parents are feeling.

But if they experience round after round of withering criticism absent voice (or emphasis on positive traits) children behave as Avox – as people without a tongue who can’t speak. Reprimanding them for lack of participation only reinforces the problem.

A means to engage employees who easily fold, appear cowed, keep silent, and disbelieve in their own capability is through encouragement – baby steps to build confidence by making it easy to speak up. “Small wins” build steppingstones of esteem in the mind’s eye of recipients.

Meeting facilitators can engage in constructive scaffolding: “April made a terrific point, I’d like to piggyback on her argument.” Before moving onto another subject, they can ask, “Does anyone have additional questions, or something they would like to share?” Soliciting opinions creates a space where everyone, and not just extroverts and conversational powerhouses can share. Victims of abuse are reticent to participate because they fear punishment, and more than anything, public shame—to which they may be unable to respond. An atmosphere where the meeting is not dominated by a verbose few levels the playing field. According to the Harvard Business Review, “. . . staying silent is a legitimate entitlement and may reflect a valid work communication style or severe discomfort. Your goal is to make the opportunity comfortable, not compulsory” (Schwartzberg, 2022).


Gilbert, J. A. (2011). Encourage meeting participation.

Gilbert, J. A. (2011). Conducting a meeting the civil way.

Howell, A. (2021). How to build confidence at work. Harvard Business Review.

Leman, K., & Carlson, R. (1989). Unlocking the Secrets of Your Childhood Memories. Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, TN.

Mackowicz, J. (2013). Verbal Abuse in Upbringing As The Cause Of Low Self-Esteem In Children. European Scientific Journal, 2, 1857-7881.

Neuharth, D. (1999). If you had controlling parents: How to make peace with your past and take your place in the world. HarperPerennial: New York, NY.

Schwartzberg, J. (2022). How to get people to speak up in virtual meetings. Harvard Business Review.

Seltzer, L. F. (2022). The “I Feel Like a Child” Syndrome. Psychology Today.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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