Who is the most confident person you know? What makes them confident?
Did you think about a loud, outgoing, charismatic role model with a magnetic personality?
Most people do. But these qualities have nothing to do with confidence. Maybe some people seem to inherently BE more confident, but looks can be deceiving. Ever heard the phrase "Those who shout the loudest often have nothing to say"?
Want the counterexample: Clint Eastwood, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey.
You can’t measure confidence solely based on appearance, real confidence has consequences, it leaves clues. Confident people take action. People who talk the talk but do not walk the walk are not confident, they are just good at faking it.
That means, you do not need to be extroverted or have a magnetic personality to be confident.
Confidence is not a personality trait, it's a skill.
And if that's the case, anyone (yes, you too) can develop it.
Let me show you how by answering Tamara's question:
Many people make the mistake of thinking confidence is something you're born with. You either have it, or you don’t. That’s not true.
There are extroverted people with low confidence and introverted people who are confident.
Confidence is a SKILL that you can develop.
Think of how differently you act in front of your family, and friends than in front of a group of people in a board meeting. How confident you are, completely changes depending on the situation and context. That means it’s not a set trait, and how you react to those situations can be adapted and developed over time.
I was not born with confidence. I had to work on it. When I started my career, I was always the quiet one in the corner. I didn’t raise my hand or ask any questions. It took years to get to a point where no matter who was in the room if I had something important to say, I spoke up. Even as an introvert, someone who finds it draining to be around big groups of people, I was able to improve my confidence over time.
(side note: being an introvert or an extrovert has more to do with how you process the world around you, not how you act).
As soon as you realize that confidence is not a matter of personality but a skill, you realize that you don’t have to be a special person, you don’t need to have the confidence gene to become confident.
If confidence isn’t an innate talent, how do you develop it?
You take advantage of the competency confidence loop.
The more you do something - the better you get at it - the more confidence you develop - the bigger challenges you’ll take on. It’s a magical loop that allows you to build your confidence through action.
Confidence → action → succeed/fail → learn → competence → Confidence → more action
If you are willing to take action and try every time you try, even when you fail you learn something and you gain competence. And as you gain more competence you become more confident.
So in order to start the loop, you have to try something. You have to take action.
But most people won't take action unless they feel confident.
Sounds like a catch-22 right?
It is. Because you can’t think your way to confidence, you have to act your way into confidence.
You have to change your behavior in order to gain confidence.
In the work environment that might mean starting to speak up in meetings, sharing your ideas, pushing back, getting buy-in, and advocating for yourself. Taking a step toward these actions will help you build your competence, and as a result, your confidence. You can start small and build it over time.
I have a full guide on how to do that in my CSS course called "The Confidence Playbook for Mere Mortals", but here are some of the tactics that work well in the workplace:
1. Practice confidence in a safe space
As I mentioned, confidence is situational. You may feel intimidated to reach out to a stranger at an event or speak in front of the executive team, but you'll have no problem reaching out to a new neighbor who recently moved to your neighborhood, or speaking in front of your closest colleagues. Use these safe spaces to practice your acting muscle. Put yourself in situations where you have to take action, so you can grow your competence. The more you do it, the easier it will get to apply the same actions in a high-risk environment.
2. Divide and conquer
For introverts like me, big groups make it harder to take action. If you need to influence a group of your peers to get buy-in or build your reputation, approach them as individuals instead of as a team. Build 1:1 relationships and use the individual meetings to share the same thoughts and ideas with each of them. Essentially, you'll be lobbying for your ideas in a safer environment.
3. Communicate how you feel comfortable communicating
Speaking up in real life or on zoom is not the only way to communicate. If you are uncomfortable speaking in front of a big group you can write instead.
Ideas can be shared via email, documents, and presentations. You can find a channel that works for you. When I worked with Dan Ariely he would send me voice messages. Maybe pre-recording your thoughts could work for you too.
4. Invisible PR
You may have competence when it comes to your work. Like Tamara, you are good at what you do. But if you don't have the confidence to advocate for yourself, you may not get the rewards of being excellent. So how do you make sure the people around you know who you are and what you are capable of without showing off? Invisible PR. Instead of working in a silo, you work in public.
Let me explain.
Most people do their job, get the results, and then hope someone will notice them. That's working in a silo.
Instead, make the work collaborative from the get-go.
Share your idea, your goals, your plan, and your timeline with your manager.
Reach out to stakeholders who may be interested or have the ability to contribute to your project. You are not looking for them to do the work for you, you just want them to feel good that you are asking for their opinion. It will get them involved, they'll have a stake in your success.
After every meeting send out a summary email capturing your plan + their feedback.
Do the work, get the results
Send out an "update" email to your manager + stakeholders just to let them know how the project went, and make sure you highlight the advice you followed and thank them for their contribution to your success. Since this is not a self-promotion email, but rather a project wrap-up for something they have been involved in, your stakeholders will actually read it and even congratulate you. Heck, they may ask to be part of the next project because you made them feel so good. They will also remember that you follow through and deliver results, and that will build your reputation without you having to brag.
Confidence can show up in various forms. You don't need to become a different person to gain more confidence, you just need to find the best way for you to take action.
I still feel less comfortable around bigger crowds, but now I have the skill to feel the fear and do it anyway. If you start practicing, you'll get there too.