Confidence is catching

Have you ever lost a piece of business you really deserved to win? Seen a contract go to a less qualified competitor? Felt less than confident when making a verbal pitch, only to find out later that the client had reservations about your ability to do the job? You may have been a victim of a lack of confidence, not lack of ability.

What we believe is true really matters. If we believe in what we’re doing, others will believe it too.

Recently, Psychology Today related a study where research psychologists asked groups of men and women to perform a series of mental rotation tests and then quizzed them on their level of confidence taking the tests. In these tests, participants were presented with one standard figure and four alternative figures. Two of the alternative figures are rotated versions of the standard figure, whereas the other two are mirror images of the standard figure – and test subjects were asked to determine which is which. Here’s an example of the sort of thing they were faced with:

At first, the researchers found a big difference between the results of men and women on these tests (men consistently scored better). However, when the participant’s level of confidence was taken into account, the gender differences evaporated. The researchers decided to test the robustness of the “confidence” finding by asking participants to complete the tests under two different scenarios – the control group (A) was allowed to skip a test if they felt they lacked confidence in their answers, and the test group (B) was not allowed to skip any tests.

While they did find gender differences in the control group A, there were no such differences in the test group B. These findings support the idea that the differences in results were due to confidence, and not ability.

When I review proposals and tender responses for organisations that aren’t winning as much business as they deserve to, it’s obvious where they lack confidence in their pitch and their offer. The writer’s doubt and fear have soaked into every page, and they leave a stain that’s hard to ignore.

Re-read your proposals from the customer’s perspective. Do they answer questions, or create them? Do they inspire confidence or in fact, do the opposite?

The first sale is always to yourself. When you are sold, the customer will be too.