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I debated this one for a while. I never realized there were so many good c-words related to career success: communication, collaboration, courage…
Ultimately, I settled on confidence because it’s the one quality that can make all of these things easier. With confidence, you’ll be a better communicator and more effective collaborator. Confidence will help you meet fear with courage. Plus, this is a nice complement to my last article in this series (B is for Brag). After all, you can’t effectively self-promote with a healthy dose of confidence.
When it comes to confidence in the workplace—or anywhere for that matter—it’s important to realize that few people are naturally confident in all situations. Self-doubt is simply a consequence of being human. We all have a drive for social acceptance and when that is jeopardized, our survival instinct kicks in. Most people either shut down or overdo it to compensate.
Where is the healthy balance? How do you embrace confidence in a way that works for you both personally and professionally? Here are some key points to consider.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
There’s one clever trick that ever “confident” person knows—when self-doubt kicks in, fake it till you make it.
Earlier this year, I was asked to emcee one of the largest conferences in the world for administrative professionals, APC. (That’s where this photo was taken.)
With over 1600 people in attendance, you can bet your bottom dollar I was anxious. In fact, I spent many a sleepless night worrying that I would fall in my fancy high heels or just go completely blank as I stared at the expectant crowd.
But here’s what I did: When I got to the huge ballroom where the first event was to take place and I saw the people trickling in, I danced. While wearing a silly hat.
Yep, that’s right. I actively demonstrated my enthusiasm and my confidence. Inside, I was a ball of nervous energy. What better way to release that than by moving my body?
As a result of pretending to be confident, I felt more confident. People saw me—the lively, uninhibited emcee—and they immediately knew it was going to be a fun event. When I got on stage, they smiled and nodded and laughed in all the right places, and their positive feedback slowly boosted my confidence even more.
This is the beautiful self-fulfilling prophecy of confidence. When you show it to others, even if it’s not real at first, it creates a dynamic that eventually makes your confidence real.
Here’s the kicker: The same is true for the opposite. When you don’t show it, the dynamic you create continues to degrade any shred of confidence you may have lurking beneath the surface.
So don’t hesitate to pretend you’re confident. Take it from me: it’s a simple trick that people in the public eye use all the time. It’s a purposeful choice you have to make, but it works.
In the workplace, faking confidence obviously doesn’t mean dancing. It means smiling, speaking articulately and assertively, looking people in the eye, and managing your physical presence. It means welcoming the opportunity to voice your ideas and opinions. It means listening to others even when they’re sharing difficult messages and putting your emotions in check even when it’s hard. These are all things you can DO. The action comes first; the feeling will follow.
Competence Is Essential
Of course, confidence requires more than a willingness to “fake it till you make it.” After all, if I had danced my way around the room and then totally bombed on stage as the emcee, that little trick I used wouldn’t have worked.
Competence is an essential factor. You have to be functionally capable of the work you are doing. You can’t talk a big game and not back it up with tangible proof.
If you confidently voice your ideas in the workplace, but then can’t deliver on what you’ve promised, the process will backfire. If you confidently assert your position and then don’t have real information to back it up, the self-fulfilling prophecy is reversed. The feedback you get will make confidence even harder to come by in the future.
I can’t confidently fake my way into flying a plane. My dad was a pilot but I simply don’t have the competence. No amount of confidence will change that if I don’t do the work first.
But we always have the ability to gain competence, and in doing so, our confidence also improves.
If you’re struggling to find confidence in one particular area of your life or work, ask yourself first: Am I competent? If not, you need to work on that first. If you are competent, put on your confidence mask and start faking it.
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