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Thu 6 Feb 2014 12:25 PM

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How – and why - to fake confidence in the workplace

If you want to be someone else, start pretending to be them

How – and why - to fake confidence in the workplace

Let me take you back to my teenage years, filled with enough self-conscious awkwardness, acne and hormone induced mood swings to put a 14-year-old computer nerd to shame...

Being the tallest girl in eighth grade did have its perks; during Basketball classes, for example. But that’s about it. The rest of the time I forced my tall frame into a painful hunched position resembling a question mark while trying to keep my head from hovering over my much smaller classmates, both boys and girls. I was used to remarks from my friends saying that they were happy not to be as tall as me, or simply making fun of my height, which lead me into even more scrunched up poses.

Then one day I was in a group standing next to a big window and my eyes fell on my reflection making me realise how pathetic I looked. I straightened my shoulders, lifted my head and decided that I would face their mockery with dignity rather than developing a real hunchback. After doing that for a few weeks, despite being painfully aware of my short - (or tall -) comings, I noticed that the taunts had not only stopped but my classmates were making remarks about how they envied my height, posture and apparent confidence…

This was probably one of the most important life-lessons ever, and when studying psychology later on, I was able to appreciate it on a whole new level.

Our brain is an amazing organ, every moment of the day it is processing hundreds of impressions. Smells, visuals, kinetic and acoustical information are washing over us nonstop, so that we have developed the possibility to filter and allocate coherent information into ‘clusters’, within split seconds. Even with its awesome capacity, the brain has no way to process all the information that is offered so that these clusters become necessary for the brain to function.

This is one of the reasons mimicry is so successful in nature- we scan something and if it’s assigned to a specific cluster, that’s how it is treated. I, too, have found myself running from a harmless bumblebee just as if it were its dangerous colleague, the wasp.

You’re probably wondering why the editor is allowing stories of my teenage years and bumblebees into Arabian business, but here it comes: today’s job requirements can be extremely taxing - if you have lately been feeling insecure in your current position or the one you are hoping to achieve… If you feel underestimated or invisible, you can take a few steps towards changing that by ‘faking it’ – ergo mimicking confidence, control and competence. It’s a widespread technique psychologists use in therapy for people with social anxiety disorders, and if it works for them, it will definitely work for you.

Colleagues and superiors will react to which clusters they ‘saved’ you under; it’s yours to decide. Plus it has a beautiful side effect as well. You can imagine it as a huge multi-directional feedback loop: you pretend you are confident and comfortable with yourself; people will perceive you as competent and treat you so. People treating you so will strengthen your confidence.

How have you always wanted to be? Well, go ahead and ‘be’ it for a day… you might be surprised. Just be careful between making the distinction between ‘faking’ a psychological state you want to achieve that you are willing to work for, and conning, e.g. manipulation of people. They will sense the difference between someone who’s halfway there and someone who has no intention to improve himself but only tries to take advantage.

The goal is to actually reach the state of confidence.

*Silja Litvin has a a  Masters in Psychology and is currently working on a PhD in Psychology.

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Sosa 6 years ago

This is very true. Confidence in yourself is what will make you stand out, no matter what flaws or weaknesses you may have. The height factor is worth mentioning, I see so many tall girls in that hunchy position - if only they could realize that standing straight might make them look really appealing.

Awi 6 years ago

Dear Silja,
I believe lots of people in the UAE followed your advice already. At my company, through rapid growth, many people are in positions which they are not qualified or competent for, but got there by faking it. It's hard to put a number on how much the mismanagement and poor decision making costs the company.
If you feel insecure in your current position, study to get some foundation knowledge, work hard and organized and success will come to you. It might take a bit longer and is hard work, but you'll feel truly rewarded and that you deserved it.

Moti 6 years ago

Awi, she doesn't mean "fake knowledge and competency" but faking of a psychological state (confidence in her example) that you want to achieve. It's a fundamental and important difference.

Non-Muslim 6 years ago

@ Moti
I would agree more with Awi's position than with yours.
In my view, there is a very thin line between the "confidence" as described by Silja and the "overconfidence" meant by Awi.
The problem is that (especially in fast growing businesses) there are a lot of confident and professionally qualified people for a certain hierarchy level, where there are the "perfect person for this job"; but there are only few who are confident and qualified enough to fulfil the requirements for the next higher level - mentally AND professionally.
To be a really good leader on any level of hierarchy requires both confidence AND professionalism, but in no case a level of confidence that turns out to be overconfidence. I for myself do dislike leaders who are bristling of (self-)confidence, but are professional dead-losses.