Coaching for Confidence

Enhancing confidence is one of the most neglected—yet effective—ways to coach your team to achieve performance excellence.



Given that employees who are confident in their abilities perform better than those who lack confidence, it only makes sense that every pet store owner and manager should strive to instill this valuable trait in each and every member of their staff.

Confidence is typically related to how well employees believe they have mastered a specific skill or set of skills. While some people completely lack confidence, most are confident in some of their abilities, but not in others. Identifying areas of low confidence and taking steps to encourage associates to believe in themselves will help your team excel and achieve your store’s goals.

Lack of confidence is typically tied to a specific skill or group of skills. For example, an associate at your store may be very confident in their ability to handle tasks related to stocking and housekeeping, but uncomfortable interacting with customers. Another employee may be confident helping customers but nervous about handling the store’s reptiles.

Before you can coach associates to boost confidence and improve performance, you must first determine when coaching is needed. You can identify low confidence by listening to employees, looking for behavior signals and asking “observation” questions.

Listen to Employees—Sometimes, associates make it easy to identify low confidence by telling you about their concerns. By listening to what employees say, you can respond with coaching to shore up their confidence.

Unfortunately, most people try to keep these feelings to themselves. They may be embarrassed or afraid to admit a weakness. Or they may be worried that confessing feelings of low confidence will result in negative consequences, such as losing desirable duties or even their jobs.

As a result, in most cases, you will need to rely on other factors to identify when employees need coaching on confidence.

Look for Signals—Even when employees don’t verbally admit that they lack confidence, their behavior can tell you what you need to know. Often, it’s simply a matter of knowing what signs to look for. An associate who is experiencing low confidence may:


  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Slump, slouch or display other poor posture.
  • Appear nervous, jittery or anxious.
  • Mumble or speak very quietly.
  • Be reluctant to volunteer information or answer questions.
  • Show less initiative.
  • Be less productive.
  • Make more mistakes.


Keep in mind that you can’t necessarily assume that an associate who demonstrates some of these behaviors is suffering from low confidence. Someone who is quiet may simply have an introverted personality. However, changes in behavior—such as an outgoing person becoming very quiet—are a clear indicator that coaching is needed.

Ask Questions—Although looking for signals is an effective way to identify confidence issues, it can be difficult to actually spot these signs. People may try to hide their feelings, or you may not be sure if the behavior you observe is a sign of low confidence or a personality trait. In these cases, asking is the only sure way to identify confidence issues.

Confronting employees with questions like “Do you lack confidence?” can cause them to feel embarrassed or personally attacked, making them less likely to answer candidly. Instead, use “observation” questions that encourage associates to discuss their level of confidence without feeling threatened.

Observation questions begin by describing behavior that you have seen or heard, followed by asking about the possible root cause. The employee can respond by confirming whether your observation is correct or expanding on what you have said.

By introducing the topic as your observation, you provide an opportunity for associates to discuss their level of confidence without having to raise this sensitive topic themselves. You also solicit information that will allow you to target your coaching.

Examples of observation questions include:


  • “I saw you ask another associate to help that customer with her return. Do you feel confident that you understand our return policy?”
  • “You seem reluctant to take on the responsibility of setting up the holiday displays. Do you have concerns about your ability to execute the merchandising plan?”
  • “I noticed that you didn’t say much during the staff meeting to discuss the new point-of-sale system. Are you comfortable with using the new system?”



Boosting Confidence
Once you have identified the areas in which an employee lacks confidence, you are ready to begin coaching. Blanket statements like, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay” are rarely effective and may be perceived as patronizing. Instead, address associates’ very real concerns by using the following three-step process:

Step 1: Reassure
The first step in coaching to enhance confidence is to reassure the associate that her feelings are normal. Most people experience feelings of low confidence at some time.

The most effective way to reassure associates is to empathize by sharing a similar experience of your own. Describing a time when you experienced low confidence can help employees understand that it’s normal to feel the way they do—and that there’s no reason to be ashamed.

Step 2: Challenge
Once you’ve reassured an employee that these feelings are normal, the next step is to challenge his perceptions of himself and the situation.

People often experience low confidence simply because of the way they view a situation. They may perceive obstacles where there are none, or they may feel overwhelmed by the size or unfamiliarity of a task. You can help boost confidence by reminding associates of their strengths and past accomplishments in similar situations.

Another common cause of low confidence is fear. People often fear the consequences of doing a task poorly. You can build confidence in these situations by helping employees make a realistic assessment of the risks. Start by asking employees to confront their fears by discussing the worst possible outcome. You can use this as a transition to discuss more likely—and less negative—results.

For example, consider an employee who is worried about having to do a “meet the lizards” demonstration for customers. As a manager, you can boost her confidence by reminding her of her knowledge of the topic and any past demonstrations for team members or customers. 

To help challenge your associate’s fears, ask her to envision the worst-case scenario. Suggesting obviously exaggerated outcomes—like losing all of your customers or literally dying of embarrassment—can help her realize she’s overreacting.

Step 3: Help
Once you have reassured employees that their feelings are normal and challenged their perceptions, the third step to enhance confidence is to offer concrete help. You can do so by offering practical support to overcome specific obstacles.

For example, if an associate lacks confidence in his ability to learn the new point-of-sale system, offer an additional one-on-one training session. Or you could volunteer to help brainstorm ideas with an employee who is uncertain about identifying products to feature in the store’s window displays.

And for the associate who’s worried about her customer demo, you could offer to review the outline to make sure she has all of the points she should cover, then serve as an audience for a private rehearsal.

Coaching employees to be more confident in their abilities is key to excellent performance and should be a fundamental part of any pet store manager’s job. However, while coaching to boost confidence is part of a manager’s responsibilities, other associates can also provide important support in this area.

Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, over 5,800 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers.

This article was adapted from “Coaching & Motivating Employees,” one of 29 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover coaching techniques to build skills, clarify expectations, boost confidence, increase motivation, encourage flexibility and resolve conflict, as well as identifying employees’ coaching needs.


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