Take a moment to consider these questions:
What business or professional situations make you anxious—and make it obvious that you are anxious?
What if you were not tense in these situations but very self-assured—and everyone could tell?
How do you think the outcomes of these situations would change?
Most people can identify and describe situations in business and in life that make them nervous and uncomfortable. They also tend to recognize that they would be more effective if they were more confident at these times!
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that a key characteristic of many of the wealthiest entrepreneurs and the most successful politicians and highly acclaimed professionals is that they are extremely confident. They believe in themselves and their abilities in a plethora of situations.
Their level of confidence in themselves becomes a self-reinforcing virtuous loop. These people’s confidence in themselves was very likely instrumental in enabling them to reach the heights they’ve reached. Their high levels of confidence continue to be very important, letting them deal with problems today and move even higher. At the same time, the successes they have achieved along the way have reinforced and enhanced their confidence in their ability to deal better with a wider variety of circumstances. It is a cycle that has contributed (and continues to contribute) to their increasing achievements.
The nature of confidence
Being confident can help you become more successful in most any endeavor. For example, confidence in yourself can be quite useful in winning other people over. So as a leader or during negotiations or when presenting ideas, when people see you as very confident and assured, they are more inclined to work with you and move in the direction you want them to go.
Keep in mind that confidence runs along a spectrum (see Exhibit 2). At one end is extreme confidence, which is your strong belief in yourself and your abilities. At the other end of the spectrum is insecurity. Here you feel anxious, overwhelmed and out of your depth. The main type of confidence you have here is the confidence that you will fail.
Another consideration: Your level of confidence is almost always situational in nature. For example, an entrepreneur might be extremely confident virtually all the time when working with his or her team. But he or she may be far less self-assured and comfortable when pitching the company to a venture capital firm. What is very telling is that many of the top, most successful entrepreneurs we see are confident in a much broader array of situations than those business owners who are less accomplished. Partly this is because their higher level of confidence in more situations results in greater success, and partly it’s that their greater confidence is a function of a self-reinforcing loop.
The two components of confidence
Confidence can be divided into two parts (see Exhibit 3). One part is personal confidence. This is what you feel on the inside—it’s the “I can do this well” belief you have in a particular scenario. Personal confidence is closely tied to your self-image and is based on your experiences and understanding of the circumstances.
The other component of confidence is projected confidence. It’s one thing to believe you can handle a situation well, but another thing for other people to believe you can. Many times in business and in life, leaders have to rally the troops or win one or more individuals over to their side. You might believe you can lead the way, but if you are not conveying that sense of authority at these times—that is, if you are not projecting confidence—then it’s unlikely you’ll get the results you are looking for.
Projected confidence is how you come across to others. In this regard, there are some ways you can be perceived as confident in most situations. For example:
- Be seen as relaxed. If you don’t fidget or look tense or strained, you’re more likely to be seen as confident.
- Strategically make eye contact. While good eye contact is important because it conveys attentiveness, there are times it can convey confidence and authority too. Specifically, when you are making key points, making eye contact with someone is usually very powerful.
- Keep your cool when tensions rise. By not automatically reacting to an uncomfortable situation, you’ll likely be seen as being more in control and confident. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel strong emotions, such as anger. It means that you can keep your emotions in check.
Most of the time, personal confidence drives projected confidence: What you believe about yourself comes across to other people. There are, however, people who can occasionally put on a good front—meaning that they come across as extremely confident even though they’re not internally confident. These are individuals who, even when they are indisputably wrong, will convey that they are unquestionably right.
Trouble is, projecting confidence isn’t enough. Narcissists, for instance, can often do a great job at projecting confidence. The complication is that they may very well be unable to deliver the outcomes they confidently propose and guarantee. They are putting on a show to bolster their egos, but are unlikely to have the skills and expertise to get the results.
You get the best results when your personal confidence underpins your projected confidence.
Building personal confidence
There are many ways to build up your personal confidence. As is the case with so much in life, experience and analysis can be your best teachers. Dealing with different situations and being willing to evaluate how you handled them can be very useful in becoming more confident. When things go wrong, most people would rather forget about it and move on. This can easily lead to making the same mistakes over and over.
By objectively reviewing what you said and did and how things turned out, you can usually find where you could have taken a different tack or action. This is important whether the outcomes were good, bad or mixed. Improvement comes from paying attention to the lessons learned.
It can also be helpful for you to identify your fears and concerns in different situations. Many times, practice can be an effective way to mitigate some of these fears. For example, public speaking is a major fear for many of us. Instruction and practice can potentially help a large percentage of fearful public speakers be less anxious about it and do a better, more confident job.
You can also benefit by detailing your strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to play to your strengths whenever possible. In those circumstances, you will likely feel energized and on top of the situation—in other words, very confident.
By recognizing your weaknesses, you can either work on ways to mitigate them or turn to resources to help you when necessary. Keep in mind that everyone has weaknesses, just as everyone dislikes something about themselves.
Lastly, and maybe most important: You are confident when you deeply believe that no matter what happens, you will be okay. This tends to be internalized as you achieve some successes. It is a product of the self-reinforcing loop.
High levels of confidence can make a major difference in people’s lives. Significant confidence when you are on your own is motivational. If you are working solo on a big project, for example, a high level of confidence in your abilities often translates to getting the project done well.
On the other hand, the combination of confidence and connections often leads to business opportunities. People prefer to associate with and turn to others who are clearly seen as confident. As noted, sometimes these perceptions can be misleading—but often they’re accurate. High levels of confidence will tend to draw people to you and your endeavors. People want to work and associate with winners—and high levels of confidence often convey that image.