You undoubtedly find it difficult to project a positive self-image when you are anxious, worried about your ability to perform, or concerned you won’t be seen as competent. When approaching situations you know will be particularly stressful, it is helpful to have techniques available to boost your positive sense of self. You can’t just tell yourself to be self-confident. That is likely to be no more effective than telling yourself not to be stressed when you are feeling stress.
One proven and highly effective technique for temporarily increasing your sense of yourself as strong, confident, and capable is referred to as mindpriming. Most fully developed by Adam Galinsky, we explore how mindpriming can help you manage the impressions you make on other people to greatly increase your ability to avoid or overcome gender bias. Our minds are “primed”— that is, conditioned, programmed, prepared, and trained — in all sorts of ways. The stereotypes you hold prime you to think about particular people in particular ways. When you are exposed to rude or cooperative behavior, your mind is primed to behave more rudely or more cooperatively than you might otherwise. Similarly, when you are told that women are not good at math, you are being primed to doubt your math ability. In all of these instances, your mind is being conditioned or programmed without your conscious involvement.
You can, however, consciously prime your own mind. For example, you can adopt attitudes and outlooks that are valuable for career advancement. This sort of conscious mind priming can alter your mind-set, change your frame of reference, or purposely trigger particular psychological associations. Whatever you call it, conscious mind priming works in the context of career advancement and avoiding the negative consequence of other people’s gender bias.
One way to positively prime your mind is to think in a focused way or write about an occasion when you felt particularly powerful, great happiness, or proud of an impressive achievement. For example, if you take five minutes to mindprime in this way before a high-stakes interview, negotiation, evaluation, speech, presentation, or group meeting, you will perform in a more confident, commanding, and self-assured manner. Mindpriming thus help you display more powerful nonverbal behavior, increasing your sense of confidence, optimism, and control. Positive mindpriming also reduces your anxiety and stress, and it increases the sense others have of you as a confident leader.
A 2012 study by Adam Galinsky showed that participants who had primed their minds by writing about a time they felt particularly powerful were far more successful in negotiating mock business deals than those who hadn’t. Many women we coach are initially skeptical about conscious mind priming. Those who try the technique, however, usually become fully committed to the process.
Positive mind priming works because the way you “speak” to yourself internally affects the way you see yourself; the way you see yourself affects the way you act; and the way you act affects the impression others form of you. The behavioral changes initially triggered by mind priming are generally short-lived (from a few minutes to an hour), but this sort of intentional self-conditioning can have long-lasting effects. In a study of three-person groups, for example, the one person in each group who had mindprimed was seen as the group leader at a rate nearly twice that expected by chance. Importantly, people perceived as group leaders are generally given more information and more opportunities to speak than others. Consequently, perceived leaders have the opportunity to perform at a higher level, reinforcing their leadership position. In other words, the “I am strong, I am a leader” mindset you use to prime yourself for a group meeting can have a lasting effect on your status and influence within that group.
*Adapted from “Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, Sept 8) by communication and gender bias experts Andie Kramer and Al Harris (Andie & Al). They are also the authors of “It’s Not You It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It“(2019).