Surprising Ways To Instill -- And Erode -- Confidence

Recently I have been thinking about the subtleties of confidence: what can instill it and what can erode it, as we encounter each other in business. There's often a counter effect, too, whereby things that might inspire confidence, don't, and things that should rattle it, actually soothe. 

I remembered two past instances related to my perspective on confidence. One: pretty early on in my career, I was on vacation with a group of friends at various stages of their own careers in media and publishing. One man in the crew remarked that he was extremely proud to always have worked for the same company and was now concerned that he might be in trouble and in the cross-hairs for being fired. My friend Mariel, a very accomplished, seasoned and respected magazine executive, practically slammed her retort: "Please. I have been fired five times. God willing, you will be, too. It's important." I remember being taken aback at the time. Ah, youth.

 While Mariel's statement might have been aggressive on the surface, there was truth to it. Savvy and chops aren't always earned on calm waters. Many years and personal experiences on all sides of this issue later, I know this to be true. We tend to trust people more who've had experience with the hard stuff: both on the handling and the receiving end of it. The inherent negativity of this topic might make one nervous -- but weathering the experience can, in fact, bring strength.



 On a lighter note regarding confidence, a few years after the first incident, it was my first day on a job where I'd been hired to smooth the evolution of a media & creative shop environment to something approximating a marketing services organization. We had a major new-business meeting that day, and the potential client would be visiting our offices for the pitch. As the meeting started, literally every single member of the management team, creative studio and potential account team came in and took a seat in the room to face the client. There were 10 people from the agency, and two people from the client side. The agency crew was swaggeringly proud of this show of force. The client was freaked out.

 The strategy backfired; the client couldn't be convinced that we really knew how to staff an account and run a piece of business. Their confidence in us was shot. Luckily we were able to use this experience later to create a training spoof called "The World's Worst Client Meeting" to illustrate best practices to instill client confidence. And, we could laugh at ourselves.

 Here are some other examples of the array of things that can affect confidence in unexpected ways, boosting it or whacking it up or down:

  •        The guy who without fail uses "Cheers!" as his salutation on every email, no matter how cheery or brutal the content is. It's likely I take nothing I receive from this person at face value.

  •        People on conference circuits, supposed thought leaders, who don't make themselves available for panel preparation calls and bring the same material every time.

  •        The agency managing partner who shrilly proclaims, "I know what I'm doing" whenever presenting her own decisions. I would trust this person about as much as I would trust the guy who tells me to "trust him."

  •       The executive who indiscriminately makes almost all meetings with his or her direct reports "closed door" meetings.

  •        People who coin their own nicknames and force indoctrination  of those names within the company culture.

  •        Entrepreneurial founders who believe they are the ones who establish and foster company and office culture -- that this is something they can engineer from the helm.

  •       And, we've covered this one before, but anyone -- and I mean anyone -- who calls him or herself a guru.

     Confidence is tricky. So, we'd do well to reflect on the subtleties. That which one views as a pronounced strength may, at certain degrees of intensity, be a weakness that will deteriorate confidence. What is leveraged as a show of force may cancel out good intent. What may look like a career peacefully lived, may actually render one bland and without experience to draw confidently from when in strife.

  • 6 comments about "Surprising Ways To Instill -- And Erode -- Confidence".
    Check to receive email when comments are posted.
    1. Lynn Goodendorf, March 8, 2010 at 8:24 p.m.

      Your insights match my experience in 3 different corporations, all in different industries. Like the reality.

    2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, March 9, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.

      Brilliant. I would add to this:

      • Agency executives who watch a presentation and keep saying to the presenter..."Next it...go ahead...keep going. uh huh got it...go" before they have heard the presenter's point.

      • Agency executives who meet guests in the lobby and have the meeting in the lobby rather than showing common courtesy by booking a conference room or cleaning up their office. This puts the guests' presence and information at risk if what they say is confidential.

      • Anyone who always slugs their email with URGENT URGENT!

      • People who schedule phone calls rather simply, uh, calling.

      • People who fail to return a phone call within 24 hours or who say, "I'll return the call when I'm back from Europe" Because, of course, there are no phones in Europe.

      • An agency or VC who turns you down by email rather than showing common human decency and calling.

    3. Richard Monihan, March 9, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

      This is all so true.

      Never forget the "You're going to be so happy you agreed to...XYZ" AFTER the deal is struck. Always makes me wonder - "will I?"

    4. Kerry Inserra from CBS Integrated Media, March 9, 2010 at 10:52 p.m.

      Thanks for a great laugh. Let's also add the agency exec who constantly checks text or email during a meeting. So rude. Love the story about the "World's Worst Client Meeting" video. Take a negative, turn it into a positive. What else is one to do?


    5. Walter Sabo from SABO media, March 10, 2010 at 11:43 a.m.

      Oh yes I've had the meeting where a person was 15 minutes late the announced they would have to leave in 15 minutes---giving me 15 minutes of a one hour blocked meeting.

      BUT nothing, nothing tops the rudeness of waiting 20 minutes in a busy lobby and then the agency exec coming out, full of herself, and snapping at us to "next page, next page" as we were trying to present an idea to her---in confidence IN THE BUSY LOBBY. No conference room. No office. Shockingly, she refused never answered any emails, gave us no business and acts like a guru.

    6. Donald Frazier from OneVideo Technology, March 15, 2010 at 2:07 p.m.

      A reply to Walter on the annoying practice of scheduling phone meetings.

      Mea culpa! I do this alla the time. For me, a phone meeting is something more than a high five in the airport. It is supposed to be a focused, substantive meeting of minds on something important.

      Given how busy (ie, hectic) life can be these days, I don't want this to compete with the two people who are in my guy's office when I call, the presentation he has to give in ten minutes, or his jelly donut. Scheduling the call establishes expectations that we are both supposed to be prepared and focused -- something that very seldom happens on the fly.

      I do however share his exasperation with people who say they do not call because they are on the road. Travel, with all of the dead transitional time, is the perfect opportunity to return calls!

    Next story loading loading..