Q: I have a new co-worker who has abilities that he doesn’t seem to be comfortable using. If he is working with someone else, he can handle most of the jobs, but when he is working on his own he gets nervous and always wants someone to check up on him. He’s a friendly guy and has a positive attitude, but how can I help him be more comfortable with his job responsibilities?

A: First, recognize that there is a difference between competence (one’s ability) and self-confidence (one’s belief in his/her ability to do the job). It sounds like your co-worker has a high level of competence, but lacks self-confidence.  When these two are out of balance it affects performance and motivation.

Though we aren’t qualified to reach back into a person’s past and uncover the origins of his lack of confidence, there are some things that we can do within the workplace to help the person become more comfortable with his work duties.

The best method is to use the training process as an opportunity to build the worker’s confidence. Start small. Work on instructing and refining the basics. Always remind the person about the progress he has made in the time that you have worked with him. Recognize minor improvements from day to day and from week to week. 

Don’t do the person’s job for him because it eliminates the opportunity for him to grow. What the co-worker needs is for someone else to believe in his ability. You can communicate that belief and help him build that same belief in himself.

A person with low self-confidence tends to be very sensitive about negative comments or criticism, so be tactful and patient. Let him know that you will put as much time and effort into his development as he is willing to invest. Regularly remind him of his progress and that you are impressed by it.

Though such individuals tend to take more of our time and attention, they often develop incredible loyalty to the people who helped them reach their potential. It’s an investment that will pay off for both parties.