We might not always have a firm grasp of confidence, but we know it when we see it. We know it because we feel it, and we know what it feels like to be around it. Which is one reason the definition of confidence can be so hard to pin down. Confidence is really an experience—both of ourselves and of other people.
We also know when we don’t feel it. In the presence of an insecure person—or, even more telling, a person pretending to be confident—we not only notice their lack of confidence, but also their shaky attempts to compensate for it.
The concept of fake-it-til-you-make-it gets you only so far. When we fake-it, our confidence can appear quite strong, only to crumble in the face of struggle, criticism or failure. In those moments, it seems like confidence is nothing more than a fleeting feeling, a passing belief in our own power, a temporary reprieve between periods of self-doubt.
It is in these moments of self-doubt that we become vulnerable. Our lack of confidence broadcasts to the world how susceptible we really are.
In an increasingly complex world, confidence is one of the greatest weapons we can develop.
Confidence manifests in a number of highly visible ways: our body language, tone of voice, verbal cues and micro-decisions. No matter how hard we try, we can’t really hide how we feel about ourselves. We broadcast our weaknesses wherever we go.
We wear our lack of confidence like a badge, and that badge unconsciously tells the world how to treat us.
Unfortunately, there will always be people ready to capitalize on those weaknesses. In some cases, that vulnerability will invite trouble in relatively varying ways from a shifty cab driver offering us a ride off the meter to a manipulative family member controlling our happiness and resources, or a power-hungry manager exploiting us in the workplace.
Even worse is that predators look for people who are meek, mild, weak, unfocused, and distracted. “Criminals are looking for easy pickings. They’re looking for someone who they can take by surprise and will likely not resist,” says Jean O’Neil, director of research and evaluation for the National Crime Prevention Council.
She suggests presenting yourself in a confident assertive manner. When walking down the street, make eye contact with people who look at you. O’Neil says that signals the would-be offender that you are confident, in charge and aware that they are there.
If you take a moment to think back, you can probably remember a time you were taken advantage of in a moment of low confidence. That wasn’t an accident. It was your degree of confidence at the time that exposed you to that situation, and it was your relationship to your confidence that determined how well you handled it.
The outcome of that experience might have taught you a lesson and increased your confidence in the future. Or it might have confirmed what you subconsciously believe about yourself and left you vulnerable to a similar scenario down the road.
So in addition to enhancing our work and character, confidence also helps protect us, physically and emotionally. That’s why working on it matters so much. We aren’t just talking about style and appearances. We’re talking fundamentally about who we are, how we present ourselves in the world, and how the world will treat us in return.