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Bridging the confidence gap

In the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about our own internal barriers to business development (as opposed to the barriers that customers and the market throw at us).

Practical barriers are the things we think we "need" in order to get out there and talk to people about what we offer (product information, marketing collateral, competitor research). Structural barriers are the systems that we create – for what seem like sensible reasons at the time – and that actually end up holding us back.

Psychological barriers, however, come from several places; lack of confidence, too many comparisons to others, and the experience of loss and rejection.

Let’s look at confidence first. Confidence can be a barrier, because in other people’s eyes, confidence equates to competence. This, in turn, has a huge effect on our ability to turn opportunities into sales.

In The Confidence Gap, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point to a growing body of evidence that shows just how devastating a lack of confidence can be. Success, they found, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.

While Kay and Shipman’s research related specifically to confidence issues affecting women, lack of confidence is a problem for anyone working in a profession where public performance and scrutiny are a regular part of the job – like business development and sales. 

To overcome a lack of confidence, we might try to “fake it until we make it.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t work too well.

According to Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at UCLA (Berkeley), extremely confident people genuinely believe they are good, and it’s this self-belief that is attractive to others. “Fake confidence just doesn’t work in the same way,” he says. No matter how much bravado we muster, Anderson explains, others will pick up on our shifting eyes, rising voice and other giveaways.

In 2009, Anderson undertook a study to find out why confidence leads to a perception of competence. He gave a group of 242 students a list of historical names and events - including some that sounded plausible, but were actually completely made up - and asked them to tick off the ones they knew. Some students ticked off the fakes as well as the real events, implying that they thought they knew more than they actually did. Afterwards, Anderson also asked the students to rate one another according to their social standing within the group. The students who had picked the most fakes also achieved the best ratings – in other words, those who had the strongest confidence in their abilities also had the highest social standing.

Real confidence only really comes from self-belief: from understanding our true value. When you have done the work to establish the worth of what you’re doing and saying, it’s much harder to shake your confidence.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.