The Ongoing Battle: competence versus confidence

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

Many moons ago, I was asked to present at my first foreign media research conference. This in itself was a big deal. Firstly, I was a relative newbie and the conference attracted an array of seasoned industry types. Secondly, I was flabbergasted that I’d been trusted to represent not only my organisation, but our inaugural piece of research. And I was to do it entirely on my tod. (Granted, I was presenting in tandem with one of our research partners, but I was there for the duration - alone.) I was both terrified and elated; apprehensive but just a teensy bit proud.

That sheer terror propelled me to do something I’d never done at work before. I demanded some training. I wasn’t picky, any presentation training would do, so long as it helped me survive the conference and not die a death on a stage in front of hundreds of my (very senior) peers. Thankfully, my boss obliged and I spent a day holed up in a London basement in a room full of strangers. The course was basic and proffered a long list of things I shouldn’t do when presenting. It was scary as hell for a reluctant public speaker, but it was timely and if nothing else, it gave me a sense of accomplishment.

To cut to the chase, I survived the conference, but something strange happened on stage. My presenting partner, a hugely fabulous researcher and business owner who far surpassed me in both intelligence and experience, was totally overcome with fear. Thank god I’d demanded that training, as it gave me just enough confidence to take hold of the reins and lead us over the finish line.

In that scenario confidence was the clear winner over competence. But why?

Confidence is the art of looking like you know what you’re doing, whereas competence is genuinely knowing it. So why, when we are competent in something, can we lack confidence in our own ability? Surely competency should win out and give us the confidence we need?

Typically, our brains are own worst enemies. The impact of negative self-talk - those little words of doubt we subconsciously utter to ourselves - soon add up. So many of us remember criticism over praise; our perceived ‘failures’ over successes. Countless research studies have shown that what we believe to be true tends to predict our future performance, regardless of our capability. If we believe we’re incompetent, we’ll conform to our own expectations time and time again. (Anyone remember that old TV ad with the athlete Linford Christie and his ‘P.M.A. – Positive Mental Attitude’? It turns out that sports psychologists have had it bang on for decades.)

It takes time and perseverance to build skills, but confidence can be knocked down in seconds. Learning to switch our self-talk from restrictive to resourceful, and perceive ourselves more positively, must be one of the most valuable life-lessons there is. Put simply, it’s the difference between freezing on stage or strutting off feeling fantastic.

I know that it takes inner confidence to truly showcase your competence. Whilst gym memberships go unused, haircuts grow out and hobbies fall by the wayside, improving our self-confidence is one of the most valuable, impactful and long-lasting investments we can make.

Nicole x

P.S. If you’re a career-motivated woman who wants to calmly and powerfully put yourself out there without cringing or worrying what others will think, then I’d love to welcome you in my Facebook group, The Confidence Build for Women.

It’s a friendly, supportive community full of women just like you. It’s jam-packed with no-fluff support, inspiration, expert training and will help you find the motivation to show up and be the you that you deserve to be. I’ll see you there!

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