Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Confidence Man (With Less Theft)

I like the idea of being a social butterfly. I like to envision myself at a party, moving around the room having meaningful conversations with all sorts of people. I'd like to be one of those people that can create an instantaneous connection with a stranger, as if we are old friends. But I'm not like that. I'm usually pretty uncomfortable in social situations. There is a reason I write blogs, after all.

For example, when I was in middle school, I always looked forward to the school dances. A dance was always on a Friday, and I would anticipate it being the highlight of my whole week. But here's the thing: I can't dance at all, and I couldn't then either. I could do that thing that middle schoolers call "slow dancing" alright, where a guy and girl stand a couple feet apart and sort of touch each other. But I never had the guts to ask a girl to dance, so my limited skills went unused. So I would spend the time awkwardly standing around, and by the time I left the school gym at the end of the event, I would realize that I hadn't had a very good time. But then the next morning, I would wake up and think, "Man, I can't wait till the next dance!" I would vow to myself that next time it would be different, and that I would be the life of the party. A couple months later, the whole process would repeat.

People sometimes tell me that I just need to be more confident. Confidence can be defined as "belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities."  What we often label as confidence, however, is often just the opposite. You might see a guy who sits at a table with others and goes on and on about everything he knows about a given topic, or you see another guy telling a girl how great he was at high school football, and you think, "Now that's a confident guy." In fact, you may even label him as overconfident.

In these sorts of scenarios, what we think of as confidence is actually just the opposite. A person who needs to have a conversation focused on him, who must brag about past accomplishments, or who must put his knowledge or skills on display for everyone to ooh and aah at is demonstrating a lack of confidence. Most of us do this from time to time. We all like attention. We want people to be impressed by us. We put so much stock in others' perceptions of us. A truly confident person does not need to play this game, though. A confident person has enough assurance in himself that he is not overly concerned with what others think about him. He doesn't need to turn the spotlight to himself.

The confident person, then, is able to give real attention to others instead of drawing attention to himself. He makes a conversation about the other person. He asks questions that give others a chance to talk. He encourages. He gives credit to others instead of trying to gobble it up himself. A confident person is much more enjoyable to be around because he isn't trying to win your support like a political candidate lobbying for votes. He's not trying to manipulate you.

Our tendency is to label people who a naturally friendly as "confident," while those who are more reserved are "not confident." However what we often think of as an issue of "confidence vs. lack of confidence" is really not about confidence at all. It's an issue of being outgoing vs. being shy. An outgoing person can be confident (giving genuine attention to others) or not confident at all (desperately trying to impress). In the same way, a shy person can be either confident or not. Because a person is quiet does not mean that person lacks confidence. They just lack outgoingness. These aren't the same.

I am not writing any of this to speak out against those who say I need more confident, because these people are right. They might mean to say that I should be more outgoing (which is possibly true), but I do also need confidence. I like to bring attention to myself. I like to look good. And because of this, I often make my interactions with others about me instead of about them. I need confidence. And perhaps you do too.

1 comment:

Charlie Landis said...

I am confident that this was a great post. I had never thought about confidence that way. Someone who is confident isn't going to make everything about him, because he doesn't need to. I like it!