There’s one conversation I have with my coaching clients more than any other. It’s a topic that has come up regularly, whether I’m talking to an ADHD business owner, a creative business owner, a graphic designer, or a branding student. When business owners let down their guards and are straight with me, the topic of confidence, and the lack of it, usually bubbles to the top.
Confidence is the most important business attribute
In my experience, confidence is the most important attribute you can have in business. There is nothing more important than confidence, and I’m sure you have figured this out if your work requires you to get in front of customers, clients, and colleagues. People who buy from us and partner with us watch us very carefully, and, especially if the stakes are high, they view our lack of confidence as a lack of competence.
I’m going to say that again because it’s really important: People who buy from us and partner with us view a lack of confidence as a lack of competence.
Clients think you can’t do the job if you can’t stand in front of them and grab their attention with your passion, conviction, and firm belief in the work you do. Partners and colleagues lose faith if they see you waver.
People with confidence get the work
I’m sure you’ve seen this to be true. You’ve been in situations where you’ve bid on a job against a slick account exec or someone who shows amazing confidence in their presentation style. Or you’re competing against someone who offers what you offer, and they can talk a better game than you can—they just sound amazing! And maybe you know that this person’s company isn’t right for the project or that they personally just can’t help the customer as well as you can. But just because this person shows a lot of presence and confidence and they wow the customer, they get the work. So frustrating, right?
(And then later on you find out they got fired or they couldn’t give the customer what they needed—you knew all along you were a better fit for this customer. They were ‘faking it’ but ‘making it’ didn’t work out so well.) But you didn’t show the confidence that this person did, and you can’t really blame the customer for choosing them. The customer couldn’t tell you were the right person for the job, because you didn’t show them. And this happens all the time.
DON’T “FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT”
And maybe you’ve tried ‘faking it till you make it’, like I did. And it made you feel so fakey and icky and salesy and inauthentic and awful, and it went against every creative bone in your body, so you’re not going to do that anymore, ever.
So what can you do instead?
THE DUNNING KRUGER EFFECT
There’s a psychological phenomenon that has to do with all of this. It’s called the Dunning Kruger effect. It’s a cognitive bias that occurs when unskilled individuals, people who are not skilled and don’t know what they’re doing, suffer from an illusion of superiority and they mistakenly rate their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to the inability of this unskilled person to recognize their mistakes. You probably know people like this.
But there’s a flipside to the Dunning Kruger effect and this is where you come in. True competence may actually weaken self-confidence because competent individuals (I’m talking about you, here) may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding—in other words, you assume that what’s easy for you is also easy for others. It can lead to feeling like an imposter in your work, as well. The “who do you think you are?” voice you sometimes hear, you know? The old imposter syndrome.
This is wrong! It’s a misconception on your part.
KNOWING ABOUT THIS CAN BOOST CONFIDENCE TREMENDOUSLY
David Dunning and Justine Kruger at Cornell University are the people who put this all together and here’s what they have to say about it: “The miscalibration of the incompetent person stems from an error about themselves, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent person stems from an error about others.”
So I’m talking about you, the aware and creative business person, as being highly competent, and I’m saying you make an error when you’re thinking about other people (customers, clients, partners, colleagues), and you assume that they can do what you can do, or at least that they can see what you can see, and that they can intuitively understand what you can intuitively understand.
Guess what? Other people can’t do what you do. They don’t think like you think. They are busy doing what they do, and thinking like they think. I see this with you (my wonderful, creative, passionate coaching clients) all the time. Because what you do comes easily and intuitively to you, you falsely assume that it comes easily to others as well and that they automatically see the genius in it, so you don’t have to point it out to them, and guess what? It doesn’t come easily to them and they don’t automatically see the genius in it, and you do have to point it out to them. When you show people your thought process and how you arrive at your conclusions, then it becomes interesting to them. Light bulbs go off. They are amazed at how you think and how smart you are. But only if you lead them and show them, authentically and confidently, how excited and inspired you are about your solutions. And, there’s no faking this.
Most people around you will not see your true genius unless they first see your true confidence in yourself.
BUT HERE’S THE PROBLEM
Most of the time when you’re doing a project for a customer, you get the information from them, and then you go back to your office and you solve it in a vacuum, and they don’t see what you go through to find the solution. They don’t see your brilliant aha!s and your late night strokes of genius. Mostly, you just present the solution.
Even if your work requires you to work directly with the customer to help solve their challenge, as in coaching, you sometimes don’t show your enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re recommending and why. The background stuff. Why you know what you know. The little stories that lead you to guide them in this way, or nudge them about that thing.
But if they can see the excitement through your eyes, it helps them believe in you, and it becomes all the more helpful and interesting to them—especially when the solution can really help them or their business—because most of the time they can’t see what you can see. And they can’t do what you do and they can’t think like you think, and they need you to open these doors for them.
It’s the same on the other end of the process—when attracting clients and presenting.
When you show confidence and excitement in your own approach, it also stretches you to prove your position and to find powerful ways to talk about it. You have more to talk about from a perspective of strength when you take the time to understand the strategy behind what you do so you can articulate it. There’s nothing fake about it. You will research your strategic position more and this adds to your offerings. It highlights your value in a visible way, reminding both your customers and yourself of what you’re really good at, which keeps you focused on your strengths—and you know that positive builds on positive.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The solution is simple, but it isn’t always easy.
1.) Stop ‘faking it till you make it.’ This ought to sound good to you, because I know you hate anything that makes you feel fakey or pushy or salesy to begin with.
2.) Learn to pull back the curtain and talk more about your brilliant aha!s and your late night strokes of genius. Clients want to know how you get to your solutions. Customers want to know why you’re so excited and passionate about your work. And this will show your confidence. It’s not bragging, either, if it’s the truth. And it’s not fake.
3.) Be yourself. What you do is good, right? The right customers for you will be attracted to you, and the wrong customers for you will be repelled. Who wants to attract the wrong customers, anyway?
4.) Understand your own processes. You may have unique strengths you’re not even letting others know about—strengths that could win you the exact work you want, the perfect work for you.