Katie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her business partner, Samantha, was taking credit for Katie’s work and self-promoting to senior executives. They had been a successful team for the last 6 years and had a good trusting relationship. On this Wednesday afternoon, Samantha was leaving for a conference, one that gave her exposure and visibility to the company’s most influential decision makers. Katie has been advocating to attend that same conference for the last year. She was turned down and told she would be able to attend in a few years. Samantha, on her way out the door to the conference, told Katie it wasn’t her turn and she had to earn her place at the table. She ‘wasn’t ready to play with the big dogs.’

Katie has received raving performance reviews for the last 5 years. She has been consistently told she is a high performer worth investing in. The senior partner of her division told her she was the future of the company. As a sales manager, it was clear her contributions were a weighty portion of the division’s success.

And yet, there was a disconnect. She was successful. Katie knew this to be true. The feedback she received was good.

It became clear to her that despite her efforts, her customer relationships, and her commitment to the team’s success, something else was at play. Samantha consistently undermined her. She initially thought it was only in their conversations. And maybe it still was.

When Samantha returned from the conference, it became clear. She heard it in her conversations, in meetings, and in interactions they had with their customers.Samantha was claiming responsibility  forKatie’s success with customers.

Katie determined that in fact Samantha was taking credit. Was it stemming from fear? Through many conversations, Samantha finally revealed she was concerned that Katie was going to go off on her own, leaving their team. But in Katie’s mind, they were partners and shared the success. Katie supported Samantha and helped her stay focused and effective at work and in her personal life (which was time consuming.) And with a bit of coaching, Samantha realized this fear translated into not feeling confident about her work, and her career.

What do you do when you have a colleague with low self-confidence and it affects you? Try the following steps to uncover the real challenges.

  1. Start a conversation. Ask open-ended questions to understand where the other person is coming from. A few examples Katie used in her conversation with Samantha:
    • What are you interested in doing with our customers?
    • What excites you?
    • What are you curious about?
    • Where are opportunities we are not taking advantage of that you would like to?
    • What could we be doing differently to add more value to our customers and team?
    • What are potential threats to our team?
    • What are your biggest challenges?
  2. Give feedback. Follow the 4 steps to giving effective feedback. Katie shared with Samantha that when she told her she had to earn her place at the conference and didn’t deserve to go yet, Katie was left feeling demoralized. She asked that next time, they have a real conversation, not a quick remark as she was walking out the door.
  3. Negotiate an agreement. Discuss what each other needs and come to an agreement on what will benefit both of you. You may give up a little to gain a lot. Agree on tangible actions, and what you will do when one person breaks this agreement.
  4. Hold each other accountable. Ask each other what she will do to hold to this agreement. Use each other as accountability partners to move forward both in your individual careers and in your business or team.
  5. Check-in with each other. Set up check in points. Consider 15-minute stand up meetings. Don’t have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. Make it productive so that you feel that you made progress and are further ahead than you were when the meeting started.

Katie learned, and I recommend you remember this too, that when Samantha’s confidence is low, it is not her role to build it back up. It is your colleague’s job to fuel her own bucket of confidence. Remind her the best way to build confidence is to take action. Be aware of other’s fears, insecurities, and low confidence. Put a (thin) wall up to protect your confidence bucket.