Can you learn confidence?
I’ve taken to calling what I do ‘Speech and Confidence Training’ – because when I said ‘voice coach’, people thought I taught people how to sing, and if anyone’s ever heard me sing they’d know that causes a few eyebrows to raise. But the new claim – that I train speech and confidence, also begs a few questions:
“Can you train confidence?”
Many people adhere to an established wisdom: Confidence is something that some people just have, and other people lack. That you can’t learn it any more than you can learn to have brown hair or to be taller.
For starters, ‘established wisdom’ is just another way of saying ‘something I’ve never thought about critically’ – and secondly, you can teach many people to be taller, just stand up straight and open your chest. Interact with the world like a fully-formed human. That’s one of the behaviours that correlate with confidence.
What of the other traits of confidence?
- Confident people assert themselves.
- They share their opinions freely, and use their charisma to shape other people’s opinions.
- They maintain eye-contact.
- They speak clearly, they are easily to heard and understood.
- They try new things and are eager to learn – hence not embarrassed by not knowing something, but rather excited that they have discovered something new to learn.
- They’re optimistic and eager to see the benefits in situations
All of these traits correlate strongly with confidence, and even though confidence might be an undefinable inner state, it would be hard to find someone who exhibited all of these behaviours that wasn’t confident.
So, surely if one managed to learn those behaviours, their inner state would shift, and they would begin to feel confident.
In any case – it’s highly contextual isn’t it? I mean, nobody is confident everyhwere, all the time, but almost everyone feels confident when they’re having an argument and they know they’re right, or they’re talking on a topic they know intimately, or they’re drunk.
It’s the other times that we need confidence – when meeting a group of strangers, going for a job interview, talking in public, or taking a leadership role in unfamiliar territory.
Much like being funny – being confident relies upon a bit of practice. At first, the unfamiliar territory will encourage a familiar response – perhaps introspection, hunching one’s back, mumbling or being quiet and generally avoiding attention. Doing things differently will feel unfamiliar at first – but as you learn to feel comfortable, you relax into the situation and take control, you’ll suddenly realise how enjoyable it is.
And even more importantly: That inner state is nurtured by people’s reactions. As you take control of the situation and capture people’s attention, bask in their appreciation, your feelings and self-judgements will alter. That is when the behaviour becomes natural. You can expand that confidence to other contexts and settings.
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