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Confidence

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Let’s talk about one of those annoying aspects of both our personal and professional lives: saying something that you wish you hadn’t. Have you ever misspoken and then replayed it over and over in your mind and convinced yourself that you’ll never be able to live down the shame of it?  Do you stare at the ceiling all night thinking about the clever things that you should have said and then act out a play in your mind of how it could have gone? Have you heard people whispering and imagined that they were snickering about you? Well, I have. Sounds self-absorbed, and it is. But it’s also true. I think most of us have done this to ourselves at some point in our lives.

The good news is, I have great advice for these situations! Like a lot of my advice, I find it easy to give and hard to take myself. But here’s what I tell my kids: Those people aren’t replaying what YOU did; they’re replaying what THEY did. They’re making up their own imaginary conversations about they should have said. Everyone is the star of his or her own life and will be thinking about themselves much more than they are thinking about you. Ask yourself, do I remember every foolish or embarrassing thing that my friends and colleagues have done? I know that I don’t. I’m too busy thinking about myself!

There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. —David Foster Wallace

My advice: When you have misspoken, no one is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about you. And even if they are, who cares? You don’t need anyone to tell you who you are.

PS: If you reflect on what you said and decide that an apology is in order, remember there are three required steps to a valid apology. Remind yourself what they are here.

For charisma, your body language matters far more than your words do.

–Olivia Fox Cabane

The Charisma Myth explains the science behind charisma and how we can become more charismatic leaders by increasing our presence, warmth, and power. Ms. Cabane provides practical suggestions and exercises that can be implemented immediately to help you enhance not only your career but also your personal relationships.

This book caught my attention because I have been in the path of very charismatic people over the years, and I just assumed that it was a natural talent. That people got their charm and energy by the luck of the draw. It truly never occurred to me that charisma might be a learned skill. And so, if charisma is just a personality trait, then I clearly can’t do anything to improve myself. But I really don’t like feeling like there’s nothing that I can do to improve myself. So when this book claimed that charismatic behaviors can be learned and perfected by anyone, I was interested.

These are the top three lessons that I am taking away from reading The Charisma Myth:

Charisma requires presence.

Presence means maintaining an active and engaged awareness of what is happening in any situation. To cultivate charisma in ourselves, we must be present when interacting with other people. This means not letting your mind wander, answering e-mail when on the phone, or thinking about what to say next when someone is talking. So many of us need to improve in this area and abandon our delusions about effective multi-tasking. Presence is very difficult to achieve and maintain, especially with the distractions bombarding us every day. I once had a boss who expected immediate responses to his text messages. He would literally send someone off to find you if you didn’t answer quickly enough! Hard to be present with competing demands like that on our attention.

The Charisma Myth offers this simple suggestion when you notice your mind starting to wander. Focus on your breathing and wiggle your toes to bring yourself back into the moment and re-engage with the person you’re interacting with. Sounds easy. I tried it, and it actually was. Of course, the trick is to catch yourself before your mind leaves a conversation that your body is still in the middle of.

People with poise exhibit stillness that avoids unnecessary gestures, fidgeting, and verbal reassurances.

A lot of us have unconscious tics that we use when interacting with other people. I notice them very easily in others and am oblivious to them in myself (no surprise since their unconscious). The most common that I notice are people nodding or repeating “uh-huh” or “ok” over and over again. We typically develop these automatic behaviors for one of two reasons. To express empathy—I’m paying attention! Or to express insecurity—I’m trying to make you happy! By choosing instead to be deliberate with our actions and reassurances, we can increase our level of presence and charisma.

Physical discomfort reduces our ability to be charismatic.

If we are physically uncomfortable, it will distract us, reduce our presence, and may even give others the false impression that our distress is related to them. Imagine that you are at lunch with an important client and he is fidgeting around in his chair, guzzling water, and looking around. You might, quite understandably, assume that he is disappointed with how the meeting is going or your company’s performance. Or that he is looking to grab the check and split. But then imagine if he told you, “Will you excuse me for one moment, it’s quite hot and I’d like to ask the host to open the window?” Well, then you wouldn’t be worried at all. The same can be true if we are meeting with people and are wearing uncomfortable clothes, in a cold room, or have the sun in our eyes.

The lesson here is simply to think about your physical comfort in advance. If there is an unavoidable issue, make it clear to others that your discomfort is not a reflection of what they are saying.

Next Steps Toward a Charismatic Life

The first way that I’m implementing what I have learned is to improve my verbal and non-verbal reassurance techniques. I want people to feel that I’m listening, paying close attention, and finding what they are telling me to be valuable. So I nod like a bobble-head and encourage every sentence that they say. And worse, sometimes when I notice that my mind is wandering, I do it even more in the hopes that people won’t notice my lack of presence. It started to annoy even me! Now I focus on my body language and demonstrate my connection with the other person through real presence and warmth. I keep my head still and my mouth shut while they are talking. When I do offer encouragement, it’s deliberate, not a nervous tic.

If you are looking to improve your presence, warmth, and power in order to better connect with people and become a more charismatic leader, I recommend this book.

Read some of my other book reviews here.

Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.

The Confidence Code, by well-known journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, investigates the neuroscience of confidence and how it affects our lives. The scientific discussions and examples in the book are written in an easily accessible and engaging style. In the last chapters of the book, the authors provide actionable suggestions for improving confidence, and make the compelling case that a more confident life is within our reach.

I noticed this book quite by accident as I was wandering through my local Barnes & Noble. It was actually the subtitle that caught my attention: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Every Woman Should Know. Any book that claims both science and art automatically gets a second-look from me. Confidence is a topic that interests me because I have often found it an elusive feeling in many aspects of my life. Despite knowing that I have worked hard and have undoubtedly enjoyed a lot of success, I still experience those whispery thoughts of inadequacy. The dreaded imposter syndrome snags another victim!

There are some book reviews that rate and rank the content. I’m a believer that I can always learn something from any situation and that when people have taken the time to share their knowledge, perspectives, and advice with me, it’s something to appreciate. So, in my reviews, I will be providing the three best lessons that I have learned rather than a qualitative metric. For The Confidence Code, my top three lessons are:

Have you ever made a mistake and then convinced yourself that it would make others question your competence? Did you believe that this one mistake could begin to undo all your hard work? I have. I have absolutely given too much significance to slips of the tongue, awkward bumbling over computer wires, and minor episodes of forgetfulness. If you have too, I have some good news for you.

There is a psychological phenomenon investigated by Elliot Aronson in 1966 called “The Pratfall Effect.” It predicts that, for people who are already perceived as competent (as you no doubt are), mistakes can actually make you more likeable, relatable, and attractive. My favorite example of this is Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. She tripped walking up the stairs to the stage and people loved her for it. Maybe that’s not quite exactly the same as me spilling tea on myself in a meeting, but the comparison still holds.

People often feel threatened by seemingly “perfect” people. Luckily for the rest of us, however, the Pratfall Effect is a proven psychological phenomenon. Confront your slip-ups with confidence and the world will love you for it.

 

 

Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.

–James Stewart

The Social Facilitation Effect is the tendency for people to perform differently in front of an audience than they do when they’re alone. When I first read about this, I thought that of course this so obviously makes sense. Nothing earth-shattering here. I already know that it’s much harder to talk in front of a large audience than to one person. But wait, this experience is actually more nuanced than that.

Research shows that for tasks that a performer knows well, the social facilitation effect can actually improve performance. What a great thing! It turns out that practicing my presentations over and over actually does help me become a more effective public speaker. It’s a great confidence builder to know that if you’re well-prepared, your audience can push you toward success. Next time I have a public speaking challenge, I’m going to visualize the audience as a benevolent group that is helping me perform at a higher level than I could on my own. After all, it’s science.

Update 1: I was discussing this with my daughter yesterday while we were driving to her ice-skating competition. She was telling me that she was nervous to skate in front of a big audience, and so I briefly explained that Social Facilitation Effect predicts that the combination of hard work, practice, and the energy of an audience will help her perform better than she might on her own. After a successful one-foot spin and two gold medals, we are both true believers.

Update 2: I was in Florida to speak at a conference this past week. Although I was a little bit nervous, I remembered the social facilitation effect and walked to the front of the room with confidence. I smiled and the audience smiled. Rather than robotically scanning the room, I spoke to individual faces and people stayed engaged. I walked toward people when they asked me questions. In short, it was a great experience. I actually had someone ask me for public speaking tips after my presentation! 

A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

For over a year, I have thought about starting a blog. A place for women in business and technology to share ideas and learn from each other. But I haven’t done it. I haven’t done it for the same reasons that I haven’t done a lot of things…my fear that I wouldn’t be good enough at it. A lack of self-confidence. Since I was a kid, I have never liked doing things that I’m not good at. I would rather not participate than try and then confirm to myself and everyone else that I’m “failing.”

But, things changed for me last week. I read The Confidence Code. This excellent book covers the science behind women and confidence, and how so many women, including those in very high positions of power and authority, struggle with the same issues that I do. It seems that I’m not as alone as I thought I was. One of the lessons of the book is to try things. To not ruminate, but to act. To take a chance and if something doesn’t work out, well you learned and can move on to the next thing. Self-confidence is about taking action. And so, today I started my blog.

I’ll be starting slow and learning as I go, so I’ll make mistakes and do things I wish I hadn’t, but that’s part of the adventure. My ultimate goal is to talk about women’s issues in business and technology and provide ideas and resources for them. I read a lot of business books, so I’ll be starting with book reviews. At the top of my list? The Confidence Code, of course.

Update: I wrote my review of the book that started it all! Read my first book review on The Confidence Code here

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