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How to Be More Confident

The 3 C’s to build more confidence

At a seminar, I once heard that knowledge can be divided in three ways: the things that you know that you know, what you know that you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know. We can definitely feel very confident in certain areas but not so much in others. Naturally, the more we know about a specific domain, the more confident we feel about it.

That’s why growing our skills and expertise is so important. But here’s the thing. What happens when we don’t know? Or when we encounter something that we didn’t even know that we didn’t know? The hard truth is that as much as we’d like to hold on to what we know, life is full of uncertainty. Confidence matters in moments when we encounter what we don’t know or when we find ourselves being wrong, and how we subsequently feel about it.

A) Competence

Competence is built out of skills and experience. It’s how well we can do something. Competence is where we all think confidence comes from. How knowledgeable are you? As we’ve seen, the more you know the better you will feel performing. However, competence is domain dependent. Someone very confident in say, mathematics, might not be very confident in acting. So while some skills may have carryover to other domains, the reality is that it’s usually minimal.

If competence = skills + curiosity, then the way to become more competent is to keep building skills and foster curiosity to explore and grow more in that field.

B) Commitment

And here’s where it gets interesting. What about when I don’t know? Or when I’m wrong? Or when I don’t know but I’m supposed to know? This is exactly where confidence comes from. From not knowing and being okay about it. Why would you feel okay about it though? Because you can’t know everything. We may have been led to believe that we should. We don’t. Our only responsibility is our commitment to learn what we don’t know. Your commitment is in your openness to learn. No, you don’t have to know. Make peace with it. Declare it: I commit to learn. Commit to putting in the work if you have to. This is where confidence comes from.

Confidence is in this gap between knowing and not knowing, caring and not caring, in asking, clarifying, and getting help. Commitment = pledge to learn + effort to learn. However, there’s a challenge to commitment. I can certainly pledge to commit when I don’t know. But I can think back at certain points in my life when I had committed to learn, and yet I suffered. What happened? It’s the last C.

C) Collaboration

Often times it is others that don’t have the patience or the understanding that others need to learn what they don’t know. It is often people that have been doing the same thing for years, in the same company, or in a very domain-dependent area. We all know that no matter how much you know, every company has its own jargon, and way of doing things. We all have had to deal with people that need to feel superior or have to be perceived as superiors. There’s certainly no shortage of great leadership, but no shortage of bossy people either.

So the third C is about collaboration. Collaboration is about working together to achieve goals. The best we individually can bring to the table is our current competence, our commitment to learn, and our awareness that we depend on others as well. If someone makes us feel less or lacking because we don’t know, then this third C reminds us that we are entitled to be helped. Confront the person(s) about it, and tell them about your commitment to learn. Ask to be helped or move on, seriously. Don’t waste your time with a person, a group, or a company that won’t take the time to help out if you need it. This is liberating! Why waste our time in a place where there’s no room for growth? Where everyone lives under the illusion that everyone needs to appear effortless or that they know everything?

The solution to collaboration? Mentoring new hires or new projects. Providing better tools to learn or to perform. Providing training, apprenticeship, documenting best practices, methods, etc. Whether provided by an organization or not, you can seek these yourself. To be even more clear, let’s clarify what collaboration isn’t: judging, abuse of power, and lack of communication or support.

The opposite of confidence might be being cocky or arrogant, believing you don’t need others or that you are superior. Confidence is not in what we know. Confidence is in the not needing to know, but committing to learn, and in our need for others. Likewise, it is our responsibility to enable others to be better. Confidence = competence + commitment to learn + collaboration. That’s my take on it. How to be more confident turns out it’s less about appearances and more about the commitments we have. So go ahead and be comfortable with not knowing, but pledge to learn. Expect others to push you, but don’t let them push you around. Life is uncertain. No amount of competence is ever enough. Don’t let that alone define your confidence.

Juan F. Diaz

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