Executive Careers Blog

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).

Jose Luis Pelaez | Blend Images | Getty Images

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, seemed like a normal response 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.

Get feedback.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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