Beyond personality assessments: What the coach can learn about patterns of behaviour and their implications: Anxiety Part 2

As part of my blog-article series on “Beyond personality assessments” in coaching, I have been exploring key patterns of behaviours that have most commonly been explored in my practice starting with Dominance and Conscientiousness.  I then focused on Anxiety, because the stress and pressure a person is experiencing, and how effectively they are coping with it, often has a major impact on other aspects of their behaviour. 

In discussing Anxiety, I decided to focus on the two areas which emerge most frequently in my coaching conversations: Resilience and Self-Confidence.  In my last blog-article I discussed Resilience; this piece features Self-Confidence.

As in my earlier blog-articles, I am focusing on extremes of behaviour, which fall at the upper or lower limits on the normal distribution curve.  These are the aspects of behaviour where we are likely to be most consistent and may be associated with strengths.  However, as we are less inclined to flex our style, in certain situation this may cause us difficulties. This follows as part of a series on using personality assessments in coaching.

To briefly recap on my last blarticle, an important part of the feedback discussion when addressing the anxiety scores, is the extent to which the client’s current level of anxiety is typical of them. That is,

  • The person’s score may be reflecting what they are currently experiencing in their life (state), or

  • The score may be indicating more stable and enduring aspects of the individual’s personality (trait).

A personality assessment can be particularly helpful in providing the coach with valuable information about the client’s current anxiety level. 

Feedback can provide a framework for discussing areas that the client may find hard to talk about and which may have been masked during previous coaching sessions.  This is particularly true of self-confidence, as low self-confidence can be hidden behind high social confidence – that is, feeling comfortable in social situations.  The socially confident individual can be misinterpreted as being confident in their abilities, when in fact the two characteristics are quite different.

Let us start by looking at a person who has a high level of self-confidence.

Behavioural characteristics of a highly self-confident individual

  • The confident client will focus on the positive aspects of themselves, not the negative.

  • They will be comfortable taking on new challenges, even if they take them out of their comfort zone.

  • They can instil confidence in others, particularly in situations where there is a lot of change or uncertainty.

  • They believe they can sort out problems.

  • Their self-confidence can help them rise through an organisation’s hierarchy.

However, a high level of self-confidence does not necessarily equate with a high level of ability, and can lead to over-confidence, arrogance and complacency.  For example, a confident individual may maintain their self-confidence by blaming others or the situation for any failure, thus avoiding responsibility for any part they may have had in contributing to the problem. 

If other characteristics are present, such as a high level of social confidence (comfort in social situations), a lively style (quick acting) and dominance, this person may be a risk-taker and not see the drawbacks to decisions they make.  Their self-confidence may also mean that they are less likely to listen to other viewpoints.  Yet, if a self-assured person is also more modest, less dominant and more people oriented, this can mitigate some of the overbearing characteristics of the highly confident person, though there may be frustrations around believing that one is right but not being able to assert it. 

From a coaching perspective, the highly confident person may be harder to coach, as they don’t take on board negative feedback.  Their high level of self-confidence means that they may not recognise that they have development needs.  This is illustrated by two examples below.

Two case studies of highly self-confident individuals

Client case [1]: William was a senior executive in a consultancy where he was heavily involved in developing new business, at which he was very successful. Coaching was suggested to William because of his bullying behaviour to subordinates.

Feedback following a personality assessment: William’s assessment indicated that he was particularly confident and sure of himself.  He was also socially confident, which meant he came across as lively and quick to engage.  His profile also showed that he was somewhat detached, having little interest in other people and their lives, and lacking in both empathy and compassion. 

During our feedback, we discussed the advantages of his style in selling (which is basically what he is doing), in that he was task focused and effective at building relationships with clients.  In discussing the drawbacks to his style, he accepted the effect his behaviour was having on others, but was not inclined to change it.  He justified it by referring to external factors such as the highly pressured nature of the work, the hours he put in and the low ability levels of the people around him.   His stance was: ‘The Company likes the money I generate but not the way I do it’. 

His value system placed money and the amount he earned above his relationships with people (unless they were useful to him), he was not motivated to change.  Although he was interested intellectually in the psychometric feedback and discussed his behavioural style with enthusiasm, it didn’t create any desire in him to do anything about it. 

Coaching to move forwards: The coaching focused on the triggers for William’s angry outbursts, managing his behaviour differently and exploring alternative leadership styles.  However, after a few sessions he began to change or cancel coaching sessions at short notice.  Eventually he decided that coaching wasn’t right for him and having the honesty to say that whilst we could have interesting conversations about his style… nothing was likely to change. I was disappointed but not surprised.

Client case [2]: Max, came for coaching as part of his preparation for a partnership position.  The company placed a lot of importance on emotional intelligence, and felt that Max had developmental needs in this area.  Max’s strong self-confidence meant he was fairly dismissive of the feedback initially, but was keen to ‘go through the motions’ so he could become a partner.  He was a somewhat shy and reserved person, and careful about how much he disclosed to other people. 

Coaching to move forwards: At first he viewed the coaching as a ‘tick box’ activity, but his desire to achieve partnership provided the motivation for him to stick at it.  One area we worked on was the effect his lack of openness was having on his ability to build effective relationships.  As an initial step I encouraged him to ask clients and colleagues a few simple questions, and disclose something about himself, as a first step to building closer relationships.  To his surprise he discovered that a colleague he had worked with for some time was a keen rock climber, which was also one of Max’s passions.  Before long, they were planning a rock-climbing weekend. 

Max’s high level of self-confidence meant that he was unlikely to become a champion for personal growth and development.  But he was motivated by a desire to change his behaviour if it served his self-interest.

Behavioural characteristics of an individual with low self-confidence

  • A person who is low on self-confidence is more likely to doubt their abilities, despite clear and objective evidence that they are perfectly capable.

  • Their overwhelming characteristic is that they worry: about their performance, their self-appraisal may be negative, they may be sensitive to criticism and look at remarks in a negative way.

  • They may take responsibility for mistakes even when they weren’t at fault.

  • This means that they work very hard to avoid criticism and blame.

In this respect they may be driven by fear of failure, which can be such a strong motivator that clients may be reluctant to give it up, as they see it as an important part of their success. 

Case study of an individual with low self-confidence

The client case: Tina was a senior executive in a retail business.  She had asked for coaching as she was feeling inadequate in the new position she had recently taken on. 

I first met her in her office, when she explained how she often felt she wasn’t up to the job.  I looked around her office.  On every wall there were certificates and awards of excellence, clear evidence of how good she was at her job.  On the filing cabinet was a bottle of champagne – a recent thank you for an exceptional piece of work.  However, this didn’t alter Tina’s feelings of low self-confidence.  It was easy for her to dismiss the success as the hard work of her team, or just luck.  Although Tina had done very well despite her feelings of inadequacy, it was likely to hold her back from further progression. 

Feedback following a personality assessment: Feedback with Tina showed her that her view of her abilities was unrealistic.  She was exceptionally hard on herself.  The assessment revealed that she also had a tendency towards perfectionism, which meant that she had exceptionally high standards.  Her work was consistently good, and she gave 100 percent of herself to her job.  But the combination of high standards and low self-confidence can lead to fear of failure, which can be a very strong motivator, but is often accompanied by high anxiety.  This meant that Tina was taking on too much herself and not delegating sufficiently.  Her work life balance was very poor.

Coaching to move forwards: There were a number of areas to address.  Where low self-confidence issue was a concern, one of the important areas we worked on was the way she processed information about herself. For one of the key differences between a person with low self-confidence and high self-confidence is the information about themselves they pay attention to.  A person with high self-confidence notices information that confirms their view of themselves as being able and competent; anything that contradicts that view tends to be filtered out.  A person with low self-confidence, on the other hand, does the opposite.  They are more inclined to notice what they interpret as criticism or failure, and filter out the positives. 

The coaching helped Tina refocus her attention on the positive messages that were coming her way, and to reframe her habitual tendency to take comments as criticisms.  


This blog-article has explored Self-Confidence, discussing the particular difficulty that a high level of self-confidence in a client presents to the coach, and touching on how self-doubt can be both a driver (fear of failure) and also an inhibitor (feelings of inadequacy).  Assessment of a person’s anxiety level and the subsequent feedback can provide a platform for starting to address the issues.  

To connect with Lynne Hindmarch

Organisational Behaviour Consultancy

Business Psychologist



mobile: 07977 129955.