The Confidence Code
Read their interview in the New York Times below
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman hardly seem like victims of self-doubt. Between them, they have covered the Clinton White House and the fall of the Soviet Union (Ms. Shipman), anchors BBC World News America (Ms. Kay) and learned to kiteboard at nearly 40 (Ms. Kay again). And yet both say they have had to work to overcome fears of inadequacy, tendencies to defer to male colleagues and “tortured cycles of useless self-recrimination.” In “The Confidence Code,” to be published on Tuesday, they lay out a path for women to become more self-assured. In phone conversations and at a lunch date (served by Sidra Forman, a Washington chef), Ms. Kay and Ms. Shipman discussed how to swat away creeping negative thoughts and what they are really thinking when they’re on television. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Q. LET’S START WITH A STRATEGIC QUESTION: IF YOU’RE ASKED SOMETHING ON TELEVISION, AND YOU’RE NOT SURE OF THE ANSWER, WHAT DO YOU SAY?
KK: Television is an X-ray. If you try to be something you’re not, television will pick it up.
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE SAYING “I DON’T KNOW”?
KK: I have become comfortable.
CS: Early on, when I started, I certainly did not feel comfortable with that. When I started to cover the White House, I felt I had to know everything, and you do to some extent. They’ll ask you about foreign policy, the budget. You’re a woman, a perfectionist, and you want to get everything right. Over time, you learn that it’s O.K. to say, “We’re still waiting on that.”
DO EITHER OF YOU STILL GET NERVOUS ON AIR?
KK: Some shows, yes. I still get nervous on “Meet the Press.” Maybe it’s the big set. And I’m the only woman.
PLUS, IN THE BOOK, YOU CONVINCINGLY DEMONSTRATE THERE’S A PENALTY FOR WOMEN WHO TALK TOO MUCH. ON TELEVISION, IS IT BETTER TO PICK YOUR MOMENTS OR JUMP IN WHENEVER YOU WANT?
CS: The penalty for talking too much is a corporate statistic. I’m not sure it’s true on television. You’re always given the thumbs-up for talking. I’ve done a lot of the Sunday shows, been on a lot of panels with men. I’ve noticed a pattern of saying what I felt I was qualified to say and stopping, and then I’d notice that the men would just go on and on and on about things that they shouldn’t have been talking about. It wasn’t what was asked, it was taking the conversation in an entirely different direction. And I’d think, wow. At one point I’d look at transcripts and I’d have talked half as much.
GIVEN THAT KIND OF DYNAMIC, WAS IT A BIG DEAL FOR YOU WHEN GWEN IFILL AND JUDY WOODRUFF WERE APPOINTED TO CO-ANCHOR PBS’S “NEWSHOUR”?
CS: I remember when I was reading the news, and I thought, of course, how brilliant. It wasn’t for an hour that I thought, oh, right, the reason this is a big deal is because it’s a pairing of two women.
KATTY, I HAVE TO ASK YOU TO EXPLAIN THIS SENTENCE IN THE BOOK. “KATTY WENT TO A TOP UNIVERSITY, GOT A GOOD DEGREE, SPEAKS SEVERAL LANGUAGES, AND YET SHE HAS SPENT HER LIFE CONVINCED SHE JUST ISN’T INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO COMPETE FOR THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS JOBS IN JOURNALISM.” EXCUSE ME?
KK: My head realizes this is ridiculous. Somewhere deep inside myself, this is my well of self-doubt. This is my weakness in confidence. I’ve actually developed a well of confidence. But would I apply for the Financial Times economics correspondent? No, I would feel I wasn’t up there.
CS: I am aghast every time I hear this.
KK: I’m good at getting information and synthesizing it. It’s not that I doubt myself on that. It’s, do you have the Ph.D. first-class brain or do you have the really good second-class brain? Because I came from a very academic culture, I always slightly felt I wasn’t in the very top group.
YOU’RE PRETTY ACTIVE ON TWITTER. DO YOU THINK SOCIAL MEDIA IS GOOD OR BAD FOR CONFIDENCE?
KK: Curiously, I think it’s been good for my confidence in one way. It toughened me up. When I started on Twitter, I was just staggered by how rude people could be.< WHAT WAS THAT AMAZING TWEET YOU MENTIONED IN THE BOOK?
KK: “I couldn’t give a rat’s anus what an uptight pinko Brit chick thinks.” Which I have to say I rather like. Someone’s thought about the construction of that sentence. It’s almost lyrical. I’ve lived here for 18 years, my recent adult life has all been commenting on politics, but the number of people who tell me to go back home. … At first I was honestly upset by it. But the sheer volume of it was good for me.
YOU WRITE ABOUT THE DANGERS OF RUMINATING, THE WAY WE TEND TO WAKE UP IN THE MORNINGS AND TAKE CRITICAL SELF-INVENTORIES. CAN YOU GIVE US A SAMPLING OF YOUR CURRENT RUMINATIONS?
CS: I’m ruminating on our bills, for sure. I keep ruminating on: my daughter hates her travel soccer team and wants to quit and I’m not sure whether I should force her to stick with it or not.
KK: The other day I was filling in for Mika on “Morning Joe.” The governor of Iowa came on the show and I asked him a dumb question. I hadn’t had any briefing he was coming on. Someone said he was going to see the president and I said, “Are you going to talk to the president about the Affordable Care Act?” I found out after he was here to see [Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel and it was about defense cuts. Six-thirty that evening, and 6:30 the next evening and the evening after that, I was still fretting about it.
DO YOU THINK THAT EVEN EXTREMELY POWERFUL WOMEN, LIKE CHRISTINE LAGARDE, THE HEAD OF THE I.M.F., DO THIS TO THEMSELVES? YOU INTERVIEWED HER FOR THE BOOK.
CS: She didn’t sound as though she had all the answers. She definitely sounded as if she had some of the bad confidence habits. The over-preparing really struck us. She and Angela Merkel trade notes on over-preparing.
WILL YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THE LIST IS THAT SHE CARRIES IN HER PURSE?
KK: She got so fed up of men coming up to her and saying, you know we’d love to have more women at the top of companies, or we’d love to have more women running things, but we just can’t find the good candidates. This annoyed her so much that she wrote down a list of 10 really good women, qualified women, and put it in her purse. Every time a man came up to her and said, “It’s such a shame we can’t find a qualified woman,” out would come the list