You can fight its unfairness all you like, but people who are extroverted, confident or even over-confident are at a definite advantage in the workplace.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that people who demonstrate confidence tend to be more successful than their peers, even when those peers have greater talents and abilities. In a series of experiments conducted with college students, professors and administrative staff at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, individuals who talked and participated more actively in group tasks were considered more competent, even when they handled the assignments less well than others.
In one of the studies, the researchers asked masters’ candidates to examine a list of historical names, events, book and poems, identifying those that they recognized. While some of the items on the list were real, others (like Bonnie Prince Lorenzo and Windemere Wild) were invented by the researchers. Subjects who included the made-up names among those they recognized were considered to be more confident because they appeared to be more knowledgeable than they actually were. Interestingly, researchers found that many of their subjects truly believed that they were more talented, socially adept and skilled at their jobs than the testing actually reflected. In fact, in one study, a statistically improbable 94% of college professors concluded that their work was above average.
This research sheds some light on why overconfident people (who are rarely seen as arrogant or selfish, by the way) are so often rewarded and even promoted over their more talented peers. While thestudy authors surmised that that their research would encourage people with hiring power to look beyond confidence and evaluate talent instead, I have a slightly different point of view.
While I’m not advocating that people start tooting their own horns ad nauseam, it’s clear that lack of confidence can be a career killer. So get your confidence into high gear with these strategies to help you get you the recognition you deserve:
- Participate at meetings. If necessary, prepare some data or comments ahead of time so you’ll have something relevant to say. Force yourself to speak more often than you normally do, even if you consider it “too much.” (This is doubly true for introverts.)
- Check the news. When you know the latest about world news, company updates, the stock market, or sports scores, you’ll be able to make small talk. Women, if you know sports, jump into the dialogue. Most people will assume you don’t know a hockey puck from a baseball and it’s up to you to prove them wrong.
- Head for the person standing solo. At a networking event, after you get your beverage, head for someone who is standing alone. Chances are, they’re as lost as you are. Ask how long they’ve been involved in the organization, how they spend their time (as opposed to the utterly obnoxious “what do you do?”) or where they’re from. Get the conversational ball rolling - just remember to do your part, that is, talk.
- Sit in the front. When I taught a course at California State University, I used to joke that students who sat in the front got automatic A’s. Most people, and not just students, enter a conference, training session or meeting and head straight for the back of the room. Resist the urge to hide out and instead be a presence at whatever event you’re attending. Ask questions, chat with your peers, introduce yourself to the presenter. If you act like a person who deserves some attention, you’ll get it.
- Dress well. Being carefully groomed can immediately boost your confidence. If you don’t know what that means in your world, it’s well worth the investment in a personal shopper or stylist. In general, dress a notch above your customers, clients and colleagues, without looking like you’re headed to a funeral or job interview.
- Focus on contribution. Get your attention off yourself by adding value to other people’s projects and priorities. Whether it’s a brainstorming meeting, company gathering or community event, doing a solid for someone else is always classy.
- Join Toastmasters. A great non-profit organization that’s been around since 1924, there are more than 13,500 clubs in 116 countries - all dedicated to helping you speak more confidently. Check out Toastmasters.org to find a location near you.
Final word of advice? Get out there and fake it ‘til you make it!