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5 Words from 5 People



Confidence is an issue that often comes up when I am working with people, especially around the Inner Critic (what we tell ourselves about ourselves) and worrying about what other people think of us.


We can spend too much time in our heads listening to this Inner Critic and creating a self image of who we are and how we behave. We then tell ourselves this is the truth and believe that other people see us in the same way.


I have been guilty of exactly the same issues and when I was having a crisis of confidence around what other people thought about me, this is an exercise my career coach used with me.


This exercise is a bit scary.


If you really want to find out what other people think of you ... ask them.


Yes, I really said that: ask them.


See what I mean by scary? But stick with me.

1) Pick five people that you know and trust.

2) Ask them to give you five words to describe you.

3) Accept the words with no comment, other than to say thank you for their feedback.

4) Give yourself some time and space to really consider the words they have given you.


How do you feel about the words?

Are there any surprises?

Which are you most proud of?

Which would you have used about yourself?

Do you recognise the person they are describing?

How will you use this feedback for the future?



Let's look at this in more detail. 

1) It helps if you have a mix of people, so, for example, you aren't just asking family members or professional colleagues or the other people in the ice hockey team. (I don’t do sports so that's the only one I can think of that has a six person team!) When I did it, I had a very good friend of long standing; a trusted work colleague; my tango partner; a co-founder of a charity; a younger mentee.

2) It may make you feel a little bit self-conscious, but you have my total permission to tell people that you are on a coaching programme and some mad coach has told you to do it, so it's all her fault! You can, as I did, do it by email if you feel too nervous to do it face to face. Be clear with your people that it’s not a five word sentence, but five individual words, such as: smart, funny, kind, skilled, ambitious.

3) Whatever they say, don’t counter with, “oh, no, but…”, “I’m not really…” etc. For one thing, that would be rude - you have asked for their opinions in good faith and because you trust them - don’t throw it back in their faces by arguing. Imagine you are being given a gift and just say “thank you”.

4) Really give yourself time to think about the words used and your reactions to them. You don’t have to consider if you think they are right or wrong - to the person who gave then to you, they are true because it is their perception of you. You can then decide which of those you want to own. (When my coach asked me my reaction to the words I had been given, I said, “they describe the person I would like to be”. Had she been that type of person, I think my coach might have given me a good shake!)


Lessons I’ve learned from both doing this exercise for myself and with clients:


People are extremely generous in their time and consideration

I’ve never known anyone refuse the request or give negative feedback

Most are thrilled to have this opportunity to say something positive about you, without embarrassment, because you are giving them the excuse of a coaching exercise

Some people disobey the rules and will give you sentences and more words than you need!



Once you have considered the words and begun to own them, you can keep them near you in some way. (For instance, I keep mine in keepsake book which I can refer to whenever I need a boost of confidence.) When you are feeling less than confident or the Inner Critic is giving you an earful, you can go back and remind yourself who you are in the world, rather than in your head.



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