We hear a lot about confidence in the contexts of business, personal relationships, and just about every other element of life these days. People are always worried that they lack it, wonder how to get it, and confuse it with arrogance. It is one of those vital but seemingly elusive things that we sense is key to much success and happiness in life―yet we often know little about it.
There’s no magic formula to make us suddenly confident if we have not been used to feeling so ― but like so many other things, confidence is a habit we can cultivate. Moreover, for a coach, it is especially worth developing. If we come across as confident and comfortable, our clients will have confidence in our abilities to help them―and we will be better able to help them develop the habit of confidence as well.
Self-Confidence: Lacking It
If you are talking to clients about confidence, it may be most useful to talk to them first about signs that indicate a lack of it. People read these signs, and will make assumptions because of them; we should thus always be aware of them. M. Farouk Radwan provides a concise and useful list of such signs:
Giving reasons for your actions: We are talking here about random things or accidents that don’t require explanation―they just happen. Radwan points out that “if you dropped [a] glass or made a mistake then it does not change who you are. It is your right to make mistakes because you are human and you do not have to find excuses for doing them.” Confident people know this, and don’t seek to claim and explain every small misfortune that may happen in their presence
Immediately responding to criticism: Confident people listen to criticism and judge whether it is constructive or not. They accept constructive criticism and dismiss the rest. They do not immediately resort to defensiveness, nor do they feel that every person who criticises is worthy of a response. Step away from the situation the next time criticism comes your way and try to determine whether what you’ve heard could be useful to you. If not, drop it.
Compensating: When something happens that makes us want to doubt our abilities and let go of confidence, we may compensate for it by becoming arrogant, by becoming obsessively perfectionist, or by denying that anything is ever wrong with us or in our lives. This compensation serves no purpose―and, indeed, may lead to depression, as we find we cannot consistently fool ourselves into thinking that we are perfectly happy with what we do.
Displaying specific body language: People who lack self-confidence often assume physically defensive positions, often characterised by folded arms and crossed legs. They are trying to shut others out and defend themselves―and it is obvious.
Perfectionism: Perfectionists tend to lose perspective on things. They feel that any endeavour is a complete failure if they do not manage to execute every part of it flawlessly. Secretly, perfectionists think that their self-worth is inextricably bound up with their ability to do things perfectly. Since no one actually can do that, disappointment becomes a constant companion. Confident people are not perfectionists. They aim high but are reasonable and clear-eyed about what constitutes success―and happiness.
Self-Confidence: Getting and Managing It
Matt Wilson outlines eight ways in which we can display confidence without coming across as arrogant.
Getting a handle on the “Humble Brag.” The true humble brag involves talking about yourself with confidence―not boasting. Many people who dislike talking about themselves at all simply aren’t confident ― even if they are super successful. They think that by deflecting conversation and attention from themselves completely, they are humble, but what they are doing is selling themselves short, and denying others any real chance to get to know them. We all need to learn to “sell ourselves.” This involves a willingness to speak about yourself, your interests, experiences, and passions, as appropriate, and with measure.
Learning to speak about yourself tactfully is key to the point above. It is a good impulse to be wary of talking about ourselves too much. However, if we refuse to put ourselves out there, or enter a conversation at all by contributing our own experiences or opinions―well, how will anyone ever know anything about us and what we do? Also, why would they care? If we listen carefully to what others are saying and show genuine interest in it, we will see with little difficulty the points at which we can contribute to the conversation in ways that make us seem both confident and friendly.
Dress smart, not flashy. As Wilson says, “Want to hide your insecurities? Time to put on your biggest bling and show everyone how much money you want to look like you have. A confident person does not need to wear the Polo shirt with the 18″ horse embroidery that screams, ‘Hey everyone, I am wearing Polo!!!’” Don’t make the mistake of thinking that confidence in dress is a matter of making people wonder how much you paid for your suit or jewellery.
Don’t wear your Rolex to your salary negotiations. Wilson urges, “Have the confidence to be frugal.” Humility can be conveyed by modesty in things like the accessories we wear or the cars we drive―and as we have different “audiences” everywhere we go in life, it is wise to err on the side of the modest. Wilson puts it this way: “Want to look like you need a raise? Don’t wear a nicer watch than your boss.” This shows that your self-confidence, and self-respect, aren’t tied up in ostentatious display.
Speak with a purpose. Speak and write because you have something to say ― something that both tells people about you and your real worth (your experiences, your wisdom, your warmth) and that may help them learn something valuable or feel good about themselves. Wilson nails this one: “Remember: a confident person makes everyone around them better. A cocky person tries to make himself look better than others.”
Talk less, listen more. People who talk compulsively are hiding or compensating for something. Listen with interest and respect, and speak with purpose. People will take you seriously, and return that respect. This is the very essence of both conveying and building confidence.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you do not know something; don’t fear your insecurities. “Everyone has insecurities, and a confident person knows what theirs are,” as Wilson points out. Don’t bluff your way through things; if you are not sure about something, say you are not sure. Being honest about them makes you both more likeable and relatable.
Surround yourself with other confident people whenever possible. Moreover, if you cannot find them around you, look to famous people whose confidence you find admirable. Whether it is a legendary figure like James Bond or a former US president like Bill Clinton, reflect on and study what they are like. Wilson points out that “Studying someone like Clinton shows how to present yourself in a manner that gives off the confidence that people will believe in, especially when making promises.”
Cultivating confidence is a lifelong task, and it needs to be reflected on and re-calibrated as we grow and change. It is worth starting this very minute ― the path is a rich one.