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Self-doubt plagues the best of us, and often at the worst possible moment, but there are things you can do to minimize its effects on your life. Our guest Karen Laos shares some amazing tips and a free download you'll want to add to your self-improvement toolbox.

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Episode Transcript:

[01:07] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Welcome, everyone. We're super excited to bring Karen Laos to the stage to help talk about how to eradicate self-doubt. Now, if you're like me, self-doubt can creep up when you least expect it and it can undermine your plans. 

Let me introduce Karen to you. Karen Laos is a communication expert and confidence cultivator, and she's on a mission to eradicate self-doubt in 10 million women by giving them simple strategies to ask for what they want in the boardroom and beyond. 

Karen first recognized the power of confident communication when she successfully negotiated her first flea market purchase at six years old. With 25 years commanding coveted stages such as on Google and NASA, she now guides women to transform self-doubt into self-confidence, resulting in more clients, job promotions and negotiation wins. 

Welcome, Karen. We're super excited to have you on.


[02:07] Karen Laos: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.


[02:12] Deirdre Harter: This is... We all have shreds of self-doubt, right? Like, no matter where we are and what we've done. So I love that you're talking about this today because I think this is relevant for absolutely everyone.


[02:24] Karen Laos: So this is great. So true. Yes.


[02:29] Deirdre Harter: Okay, so let's just kind of dive right in, Karen. And do you have some advice for any woman listening who is struggling with self-doubt?


[02:42] Karen Laos: I have lots of it, for sure. The first thing I want to say is that you are not alone. 

To your point, we all have it. And as much as I would love to say we can fully eradicate it, I think we never quite arrive. But the key for me is that you don't want to be held back by that, so much so that you don't speak up and that you hold yourself back from being the real you. One of the exercises that I love to offer is something I call the Broadway Musical Technique. And it is first to identify that message of self-doubt that you typically say so I'd say for most of us, and I will tell you very honestly, for me, my typical one that has played for years, and thankfully, it's getting much better, but “I'm not enough.” 

And a lot of women, I have found, really connect with that statement. So while that might not be yours, think about what that is for you, and then notice, even as I say it, it doesn't sound like a positive message. I'm not saying it with great excitement, because usually, doubt is heavy. There is a heaviness in general about it. 

But what you do to change up the neural pathways in your brain and take the power away is you sing it like a Broadway musical. I'm not good enough. And suddenly, when you start singing, it immediately takes away the message of that heaviness. And that can be a great, very fast way to break yourself out of that in the moment.  

That's a fun one that I find, again, it's a quick one to do in a moment situation. Of course, there are lots of things that, like me, I've been working on this for a long time. I don't think change happens overnight, but it takes commitment, dedication, and support, for sure. But that can be one quick way to go, okay—where you have that message going on and on in your head. It's like, okay, I'm going to do the Broadway Musical, and that can shake you out of it for a bit.


[04:52] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah. I love that. Let's talk a minute about why we never reach the end with that kind of thing. Because when we talk about being human what does that mean? And mindset is big. We talk about mindset a lot here at Encore Empire. And the reason we can never eradicate it 100% is because our minds do these funny little things, and things start coming into our thought processes that change how we view things. So I love the musical idea because it helps get you out of that. It breaks up whatever pattern you're in, because we can fall into such patterns, and you don't realize it until you may be down a rabbit hole and then you're kind of bummed out or you're really feeling bad about yourself, and there's really no reason to let it go that far. But it all comes with awareness. Right?


[05:46] Karen Laos: So true. Well, that brings me to another exercise that I love, that I call five and five. And that is to ask five people that you know and trust for five positive qualities and strengths about you. And to the point of where we can go down a rabbit hole and we can have a really bad day—and sometimes it's multiple days. 

When we have this collection of beautiful things that people that we trust have given us. I like to call that the celebration portfolio. Add that to your celebration portfolio, especially for those days when you need something uplifting. And the other thing I find fascinating about that exercise is that once you gather those ideas and comments, you'll see themes. 

I've done it a number of times over the course of my life, since high school, I think is when I first started doing that. And it is amazing how it can be such a validator. Not that we need to be looking for external validation. I'm not saying it has to all be about that, but to your point about awareness, it can give perspective to go, wow, I had no idea that that's the impression that I had on this person. And, oh my gosh, I hadn't thought of the strength that that is. So it's a really wonderful way to celebrate who you are.


[07:06] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah, I love that. Awesome. And I think it is, it's about shifting perspective and we get caught up in our thing. So doing these little exercises help us do that. Do you have any others you want to share?


[07:21] Karen Laos: Sure, I could go on and on.


[07:25] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: What about the Broadway Musical one being, like, in the moment, but what if you're somewhere that you can't comfortably sing out loud?


[07:35] Karen Laos: Fair enough. Yes. And that's a good reminder that that's one of those in the moment. If you're in your car, you're nervous about a situation or something, or you're in the bathroom, you can do that. But the longer-term effects, I would say, are a culmination of things. 

One of them is to decide on an affirmation. And I know you two are so. I feel like we're just built of the same cloth as far as your values and my values are so aligned and all of these things. But really looking at what affirmation so specifically, a short sentence that usually starts with I am. I know there's various versions of it, but starting that and saying that to yourself multiple times, putting it on post-its throughout your house, putting it even on your cell phone cover or screenshot or something, but simplicity, like, I am powerful and strong, or one that isn't an Im statement, but I've had a lot of people seem to like is. 

People love to hear what I have to say, since so many times I work with people that doubt that people want to hear what they have to say, but having those affirmations and then saying them multiple times can be very helpful.

I'll give you a perfect example. And you two probably have multiple of these as well. But I remember, I really love the word radiant. I've always loved that word. And I remember one time thinking, I want to be more radiant. So I started saying, again, simplicity. “I am radiant.” I don't recommend having multiple affirmations, having one at a time, and then trying that on for a while. So I did that for a couple of weeks, and I kid you not, in those two weeks, I had two random people say that I was radiant, and one was in a corporate feedback form after a training that I had done. And I don't remember the other one specifically. But what struck me is how we can manifest these things and not even realize that it's happening, or we are intentionally leaning into that thing that we want for ourselves. And sometimes it's especially helpful when we don't believe the thing. The more you say it, the more you start believing it. And, yeah, I mean, I have so many examples of these, but that's one of my favorite tips, is the affirmations.


[09:58] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah, I love that. And it brings to mind the power of our words. And that's part of what all of this is about, is when we're experiencing self-doubt. Like you said in the beginning, the things we're saying to ourselves aren't good, necessarily. They're not nice, and they're not positive, right? So the power of our words, that's such a great story. This is a great question that we have:

What holds most people back from getting what they want?


[10:30] Karen Laos: Where can I start? Number one, we don't know what we want. That is fascinating to me about how much control there is in that statement, that the first step, and I have a framework called the confidence key. And one of the steps in my framework is to identify what you want, because so often, as women, I think in particular, we don't often allow ourselves to want because we're so focused on serving everybody else. That's one. 

But then the other one is that we don't actually ask directly or we don't even ask at all. That's the bigger problem. We don't ask at all. We think, oh, who am I to be blah, blah, blah? Or what if they say, no? 

All of these feelings are real. I am certainly not trying to dismiss them. It's so important to bring them to the surface, though, so then we can do something about them. We can ask ourselves, what is the root for me? 

For me, I found myself, even as an executive, in a corporate environment where I was highly respected. I remember being tongue-tied in a boardroom one day in front of my peers because I had an internal conflict with my boss. I didn't agree with what she had asked me to present, but I was taught that you don't question your boss. So here I am in this internal conflict. Couldn't get the words out. As a result, she shuts down the meeting in a very gracious way, pulls me aside afterward, and said, this is what I'm talking about, Karen, once again, you didn't trust your gut. You could have just said, I don't know why we were talking about this in the first place. Let's table this. Which is what she said. 

That moment is when I put that stake in the ground and said, I've got to figure out what my problem is. Why am I so tongue-tied around this particular person? And that's when I said, I've got to set out to figure this out. And it was so much about not wanting to rock the boat. I spent most of my adulthood, childhood mostly, but adulthood, too, trying to get the approval of my dad. And I was never going to get it. So I remember realizing through lots of therapy and personal growth work, that my boss was the archetype of my dad. And that's when I realized, oh, my gosh. 

So we've got to figure out what our triggers are, what people or things make us bring up stuff that make us smaller and make us play smaller. And then how do you get to a point, which is where I feel like I am now, where I don't let a person or a situation intimidate me so much that I hold back because I played small for too long?


[13:32] Deirdre Harter: I think this is kind of a universal problem, Karen. We all, I think women in general, it's just our gender and it's our generation. So between the two different things. And I know that for me, I saw a lot of role modeling around the playing small and the catering to everybody else. And you always put yourself last and you play the martyr and you just do what you're supposed to do. That's where I recognized later on in life that that was it. It was seeing that again and again. It's like watching the same movie or listening to the same song on the radio 100 times. Then you know the words, right?

You just know every single word. It's, like, so ingrained in us. And I think that's where the work is, is to be aware that that's where it's coming from. And then to know you have the power to choose differently and to think differently. Sometimes I think we think we can't control it, but I know that we can.


[14:41] Karen Laos: I love that. Oh, my gosh. Yes. The power of self-agency.


[14:45] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yes. Well, for some reason, and I would like to say it happens less now, but I don't know that that's true. But women have always been taught to be seen, not heard, or make yourself small. The act of not putting yourself first is—and that's ingrained in so many of us—is teaching us that we aren't worth putting ourselves first, that everyone else is worth more than we are. So we start shrinking back. 

Even little actions. Like, I remember when I was a teenager, there was this restaurant that I loved, and I wanted to go out to lunch one day, and none of my friends could go. And I was so scared to go by myself, which is such a weird thing. But when we think about these things that feel scary, if we can push ourselves. So I used to make myself go to that place and have lunch by myself. I did it several times until I felt comfortable with it. And it's like we have to figure out where are these invisible resistance barriers that we have that we've put up for ourselves, and how do we get past them? 

And part of it is just by looking at it and going, well, why am I thinking this? And then setting up a goal or a challenge for ourselves to do something different or to push through that. Because the more we do that, we expand our footprint. Like, we are able to breathe, take up space in the room. We don't have to be a size zero and equal nothing and all those kind of things that women are taught, we get to be who we are. And I think that's why this is such a powerful message that you bring. And I just absolutely love it.


[16:29] Karen Laos: Thank you. Well, I'm with you. I relate to everything that you said. We are so culturally conditioned, and it is really tough to break those tapes. I mean, they're so ingrained in what feels like our DNA. And that's what I find so challenging, is that I continue to peel back more layers of, oh, my gosh, I thought I was over this. And then something comes up and I go, wow, okay, I got to lean into this. I got to figure this out so I can continue to grow and evolve.


[17:06] Deirdre Harter: I think this is especially important, and the reason we're talking about this in a business women's business group is because this becomes especially problematic for those of us who are in business.


[17:20] Karen Laos: Oh, my goodness, yes. I think about all the things, and opportunities that people miss. And in the various people I coach, I have a couple of different masterminds, and I'm amazed at, I was thinking, here's one woman, and this is a success story. But for ten years it wasn't. 

She came to me because she said, I have been working at this company and she was a senior leader there. And she said, I show up every day and I work hard, and I just thought that someone would notice and promote me. And she said, I think she reached this point where she saw the need in the company that was not being met but had so much potential and it had such a fire within her. She finally said, I want to create this role. I want to pitch my boss. So she came to me for help with that. And the beautiful thing is that just a few months later, she did. She pitched it to her boss. She ended up creating this entire new role for herself. He knew it was needed because she was smart in the intersection of what does the company need and what can she offer? And the hard part for her was having the courage to ask and say, I want this. And she got it. 

Now, a lot of times I also recognize that sometimes people will say to me, but I did ask and I didn't get it. So then, number one, it could just simply, there's so many factors that could be going on in there, but I always tell people, don't let the fact that you got a no be affecting the fact of not asking basically, because sometimes, yeah, it's just anybody that would have asked would have gotten to ‘no.’ 

Sometimes it's, I wonder if you could have had a better ask—were you not direct enough? I mean, I think back to my career. I wasted a year of my life because I didn't make an ask directly. I was too nervous to flat out tell my boss that I wanted this, and here was my plan and could she help me get there? 

I said something more like, so everybody on the leadership team is senior director above, and I'm a senior manager. So what does that mean for me? I came from this very passive place, and I thought I was making a direct ask. And she said, oh, yeah, we'll have to figure that out. Well, she was busy. I didn't catch her at the right time. I did not set aside a specific time to meet with her, which also then diminished the value of me because I didn't think I was important enough to set aside a private meeting. 

So anyway, fast-forward to eight months later. Something to the tune of that. After bringing it up even a second time, at the end of my review, I was shocked because I thought I was going to be promoted. And she could tell something was off. And thankfully, I had a great relationship with her. And then she said, what's going on? And I said, I thought I was going to be promoted. She goes, what? She didn't even remember the conversations.


[20:29] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah.


[20:30] Karen Laos: And then we had a good laugh about it and sad laugh for me, but I said, okay, I want to do a do-over. I want to be promoted. I want to be a director. When can we make that happen? What's getting in my way? And I want to fix it. So can we create a timeline for that and see what we can do next? 

So it was so different. And I think if I had just said to her, I would like to be promoted, I know that I can bring value. You're already asking me to be on the leadership team. That's another lesson. I'll just say this and then stop. But the lesson to me is also, don't do the job or the role or take on the additional responsibilities that are out of the scope of your job until you have that conversation. So then you decide, do I want to keep doing this thing that's out of scope? And am I going to take that on or say, I don't want to do that out-of-scope thing unless I get a promotion or I get paid more money? 

I lied. I have to say one more thing, because I talked to a woman in a networking event, and she said something like, I get to do so much, they let me do. I said, you know what? I want to stop you for a moment and make you aware of some of the language you're using. We had a really good conversation. It was so interesting. It was a huge reframe for her. And she laughed. She goes, well, maybe I do need to be in your mastermind. But she was unaware. And I think a lot of women are. 


[22:02] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: I do too. And let's look at, just for a sec, what happens when we think we are saying what we want and we're communicating clearly and it doesn't go as planned. 

We start becoming resentful. 

We start maybe not doing the job because we think, well, no, it doesn't matter anyway. No matter how hard I work, I'm not going to get it. So we can go down that road. 

And I'll say, I've had those thoughts before where it's like, well, if they're not going to even appreciate what I'm doing, then I'm not going to do it. But is it because they're not appreciating it, or is it because we haven't clearly communicated that, hey, this is important to me, this is what I think we need to do? This is how I show up for the company and I would like to be rewarded for—you don't have to say the word rewarded, but it all comes down to the communication.


[22:48] Karen Laos: Yeah, it is so true. I continue to be fascinated, especially when the tables get turned on me. And I have to be honest with myself, especially in my marriage. I thought I was so clear. And then sometimes my husband will say, all right, communication expert. Oh, once again.


[23:09] Deirdre Harter: Yeah, that is such a good point, Karen. And this is everywhere. And I know we said in the very beginning, it's from the boardroom and beyond, because this affects every single role in our lives, basically, and every relationship that we have with anyone, whether it's with our significant other, whether it is with a boss, whether it is with our audience in our business and the prospects that we're talking to. So it applies across the board. And there's an interesting question here that we wanted to ask you, too. And this falls directly in the communication piece because we can wrangle the self-doubt, but then we still have to deal with the communication part of everything.


[23:55] Karen Laos: Yes.


[23:56] Deirdre Harter: So how do you stop rambling and get to the point? Because I know this can be something we all fall into.


[24:02] Karen Laos: Yes, for sure. I always tell people I'm a recovering rambler myself, so I understand. But the first thing you do, you have to be self-aware enough to notice that you're rambling. And then stop and pause, take a moment to gather your thoughts in that pause, and say out loud, ‘my point is this.’ 

There's something about, for me now, I taught myself this, and other people seem to really like it. For me, the idea of saying it out loud is important because it helps me regroup, and then it actually shares to your audience or the person, whether it's one person or many, that, oh, she has a point. Okay, we're going somewhere. So we're all on the same page at that moment. 

Now, for other people they might like, I'm more of an external processor, so that's an easy thing for me to say out loud. Some people might not want to have that out loud. So then I tell people it's the same start where you pause your thoughts and then move on. But that's not a time to go on another tangent. 

Now there are relevant tangents. I had a really interesting discussion with somebody and she said, well, what about tangents? And I thought, oh, yeah, you're right. But then you have to be so good. I think about this related to good facilitators. You have to be so mindful of, okay, this tangent needs to be pithy, relevant, and then bring it back to the core message of what we're actually talking about. 

And too often what happens is most of us just generally aren't that skilled that we'll go off on tangents and then kind of forget where was I now? And, obviously, in certain situations, it's not a big deal to say that, but if you say that too much, then it looks like you don't know what you're talking about. And that can take away from your credibility, especially in business.


[25:59] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah, well, and I think part of the reason we go on tangents, I mean, I'm sure there are multiple reasons, but if we have the attention of someone and we want to hold the attention, so we think we have to fill every moment with words instead of getting comfortable. It's really an expansion to get comfortable with silence, to get comfortable with the pause. And I think that's, I'm sure you as a speaker have had training on that, but I think that that's where we don't even give our brains time to stop and think about what our mouth is saying.


[26:40] Karen Laos: It's true. And I love, one of my mentors is Donald Miller of Story Brand. And he has a really funny thing that he says, that if people have to burn too many calories to figure out what your point is, they're going to tune out.


[26:55] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah, that's a good one.


[26:57] Karen Laos: Yeah. I mean, everybody is deciding if what you're saying is offering value to them, is it going to help them survive or thrive? And as you know, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. So it's seconds where people decide, is this person offering me value? Do I want to keep listening or would I rather go back to whatever is on my phone or on my computer? There's so many competing things for our attention.


[27:26] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yes, definitely.


[27:30] Deirdre Harter: All right. This has been absolutely incredibly helpful. I have got notes here and I love, my favorite thing is, ‘my point is,’ and I'm going to say it out loud because I know that I can stray off a little bit. So this is going to be especially helpful with my husband, I think.


[27:55] Karen Laos: Great how these things cross over. I mean, we take ourselves with us wherever we go anyway, but whether it's business or personal, the concepts apply.


[28:04] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: That's right. Yeah.


[28:06] Deirdre Harter: So you have a really great giveaway for our audience. Karen, would you like to share with them what that is?


[28:14] Karen Laos: Sure. It's called 9 Words to Avoid and What to Say Instead. And this is a freebie on my website that you can download. And I'll give a quick tip because people are often curious, what are they? What are they? Well, here's a two-for-one, ‘just’ and ‘little’ in certain contexts. 

So, for example, if I were to say to the two of you, I just have a little tip that I want to share, it devalues or de-minimizes the tip, as opposed to saying, I have a tip I want to share. And it's amazing how we use these words. Even the other day at United, I've been on lots of flight delays this week, and we were waiting for hours, and then this guy comes on from United and he goes, well, I kind of have an update. I'm thinking, do you kinda or do you have an update? 

It's so funny how we say these things. He did have an update and how different it would have been if he had said with confidence, I have an update for you. But when someone says, I kind of have, it takes away from the credibility and you don't feel as confident in that person.


[29:22] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Yeah, that makes so much sense.


[29:25] Karen Laos: Yeah. Great.


[29:27] Carmen Reed-Gilkison: Thank you so much, Karen.


[29:28] Karen Laos: My gosh, you are so welcome. It's such a pleasure. I love what the two of you are doing and look forward to more conversations and all the things.



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