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Improve Interpersonal Skills By Dropping the Pseudo-Confidence Schtick

Graphic Showing Improve Interpersonal SkillsConfidence is attractive. People who exude genuine confidence appeal to and inspire others. Confidence gives these people an advantage in work and in personal relationships because their confidence is contagious. When someone is confident in their own abilities, others respond by putting confidence in them, too. But for those looking to improve interpersonal skills, there’s a fine line between exuding genuine confidence and displaying pseudo-confidence.

When someone crosses that line, their behavior becomes unattractive. Rather than appealing to others, the pseudo-confident person repels others. This person comes across as untrustworthy and phony.

Improve Interpersonal Skills by Losing the Mask

Sadly, those who are merely acting confident (rather than being confident) seldom recognize the difference. Others see it in them before they see it in themselves. The pseudo-confident generally dismiss others’ reactions to them, saying things like “I don’t care what they think” or “They’re just jealous.” The bravado may bolster their spirits, but it also perpetuates the problem and distances others from them even more. After all, who wants to be minimized by someone who thinks of them in that manner?

Pseudo-confidence is actually encouraged in our society. The “fake it ‘til you make it” message reigns supreme. Plenty of people fake it and never really make it because they think the faking it is good enough. So long as this prescription is doled out so loosely, many people will get stuck in this rut. Real confidence doesn’t require faking it. Those who are genuinely confident don’t need to fake it.

5 Ways to Be Truly Confident

So what does it look like, then, to be genuinely confident? I can think of five clear differences between real and pseudo confidence.

1. You don't know everything.

Being confident means that you believe in yourself enough to ask questions and to ask for help. It means that you believe in your own abilities to learn and grow, so when you don’t know something you are open to admitting that AND willing to try and try again until you learn.

Pseudo-confidence is just the opposite – not asking for help, not acknowledging skills or knowledge gaps, and not being open and willing to learn.

2. You don't have to be perfect.

Confident people make mistakes, accept responsibility for those mistakes, correct those mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Those who lack true confidence blame others instead of accepting responsibility. They hide their mistakes (and often magnify them in the process). They don’t learn which, of course, means that they are more likely to repeat the same mistakes. In their “fake it ‘til you make it” mindset, this is all OK.

3. Do not put on airs.

Confident people are humble and see no need to call attention to themselves. They rely on substance rather than style. By contrast, the pseudo-confident often have a “look at me” way of presenting themselves. They over-act the part of confidence so that they look “cocky” or arrogant. They deflect questions and oppose differing ideas, usually by attacking those who challenge them. This is because the substance isn’t really there and the style won’t hold up to any scrutiny.

4. Be unflappable and consistent.

It is not tied to popular opinion or circumstances. Instead, it is steady and ever-present. A person who is confident in himself or herself is not reliant on what others think. Instead, they are content to form their own opinions and to act of their own accord. This type of confidence comes from knowing who they are and what they stand for, anchored in their own values and fully formed beliefs. Those who are merely acting confident lack the foundation to be consistent and independent. Because their confidence isn’t rooted in values and beliefs, the pseudo-confident look outward for validation and direction. That makes their confidence situational and puts them on shaky ground.

5. Be giving of yourself.

Confident leaders see no need to be protective and stingy with their:

  • Time
  • Knowledge
  • Resources
  • Ideas
  • Support

They believe there is plenty to go around, and they welcome the opportunity to help others. They are also magnanimous in spirit, seeing the best in others, overlooking pettiness, forgiving unintended slights, and working earnestly to resolve conflicts. Those who pretend to be confident build walls instead. They isolate themselves and are not forthcoming with information. They don’t like to share what they know and are not generous with their time. They protect their turf and see others’ involvement or interest as an encroachment. Because they are so defensive, they make “mountains out of molehills” and escalate conflicts. They interpret innocuous comments as insults and think those who ask questions are questioning them as an attack.

Don't Hide -- Develop Yourself!

At the root of all these behaviors is the difference between genuine confidence and a lack of confidence. Masking a lack of confidence doesn’t fool anyone for very long. It soon becomes clear that the pseudo-confident are trying to hide something.

Usually, what they are trying to hide is the lack of confidence. Just admitting the confidence gap and being confident enough to ask for help resolves this perception and puts people on the right track toward developing a deeper level of confidence. For some, though, that admission never comes. As a result, they miss out on developing and displaying the genuine confidence that would lead to stronger connections with others.

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(Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in August 2012 and was recently updated.)