Confidence: the 4 mistakes

I forgot the words to three of my songs (audience: 135,000 people). And that was it for me. I never sang professionally… for 27 years” (Barbra Streisand talking with Larry King).

Barbra’s “greatest talent isn’t acting or singing; it’s her ability to hide her fear” (“Petrified,” The New Yorker, 8/28/2006).

Mistake #1: Assuming you know what’s going on inside others.

Suppose, at the next leadership offsite, your CEO decides to forego the usual PowerPoint slides.

Instead, he stands up, and in a commanding, operatic voice, he sings out the quarterly financials.

You’re impressed. And yet, you know nothing about the CEO’s inner experience. He could be extremely confident, or extremely nervous, or extremely insane.

Mistake #2: Assuming you should feel as confident inside as others appear outside.

A basic problem in human relations, says psychologist Daniel Gilbert, is that we see ourselves from inside-out, but see everyone else from outside-in.


That’s my favorite line (paraphrased) from a so-so novel called “The First Patient.”

It’s about a U.S. President whose physician vanishes. Then the President has a psychotic episode which, to me, just seemed like a predictable reaction to bad health care.

Mistake #3: Assuming other people can see your insides.

I sometimes work with managers who, during high-stakes presentations, assume their nervousness is transparent.

But often the only reason your audience knows you’re nervous is because you feel compelled to announce it.


Mistake #4: Assuming you can see your outsides.

The other night, I was having dinner with a senior executive who complained about one of her managers:


“At meetings, she just looks totally bored. And she has no idea how she comes across. But—here’s the odd part—she wants her own staff to get trained in body language.”

Sometimes my wife wonders about my body language. “What’s that face?” she asks.

You would think I would know. After all, it is my face.

Tip: You don’t need to feel confident (inside) to look confident (outside). But you do need to know how you look.

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© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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