Chances are, you have seen the low-confidence death spiral up close at some point in your life. You go to a meeting and someone gets up to give a presentation. He clearly doesn’t have command of the material, so he talks softly into his collar using a shaky voice. Someone asks him to speak up and he loses his composure. While people may feel bad for the speaker, compassion won’t change the fact that any chance he had to convey his point is lost.
On the flipside, there is a virtuous cycle of confidence as well. A great speaker brings an audience along for the ride. She stands straight, speaks loudly and dares the listeners to come with her. Her command of the material is evident from the start.
In a very real way, confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that you will succeed, you project that belief in success.
The reason that your own level of confidence matters is that people often need help making judgments about quality. The psychologist Dan Ariely performed an interesting experiment. He had people contemplate the value of him reading his own poetry. For some people, he first asked them how much they would be willing to pay to hear him read his poetry. Others were asked how much they would need to be paid to hear him read his poetry. Later, people felt that Ariely’s poetry was more desirable if they were asked how much they would be willing to pay than if they were asked how much they would need to be paid. (In many ways, this is like the story of Tom Sawyer charging people to paint his fence.)
Recently, Jennifer Tress published a book called “You’re Not Pretty Enough,” which suggests that people need to come to accept who they are and what they look like. It is true that we judge people in part by how attractive they are to us. But the virtuous cycle of confidence plays a role here as well.
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