Sometimes there is no level of coaching or inspiration to get someone to feel more confident. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how hard you search, it’s just not there. It’s in those situations that the only recourse is to just fake it. In other words, how do you look and act confident even if you don’t feel confident?

How to Act Confident

OfficeKing256Acting confident can be taught. I’m not saying it will feel comfortable or natural, but acting in ways that appear confident can be done. Simply put, acting with confidence is all about leaning forward (or leaning “in” if you prefer) versus leaning back. Like most sports, it’s about being on your toes and not on your heels. So how do you do that? The best way is by asking great questions. In fact, as I have made the rounds with senior leadership teams across various industries and organizations, they all tell me the same thing. The repeatedly say, “When we are looking to promote someone to join the senior leadership team, we are not looking for the smartest or loudest person in the room. We are looking for the person who can ask the best questions. The individual who can lead the group by asking the right questions so we can make better decisions.”

Sounds simple right? And yet, I have not once, not ever, met a person who lacks confidence who asks good questions. In other words, when our confidence is shaken we tend to shut up. Not good. So, here is your prescription for “confidence-boosting” questions that you should start asking:

Clarifying questions – when your boss asks you to do something. Never say, “o.k.” Always, follow-up with clarifying questions. Questions like:

  • “Can you give me an example of what you might be looking for? Has something like this been done before in a way that you thought was exceptional? ”
  • “What would success look like for you on this project?”
  • “In your mind, what is the priority of this project? High? Low?”

Strategic questions – when in meetings, ask questions to get the group to think differently about what you are talking about. Think SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Questions like:

  • “What would success look like for this initiative? What would a perfect outcome be?”
  • “How is this going to impact our customers (or other stakeholders)?”
  • “Do we have the right resources to get this done? If not, how can we get the right resources?”
  • “Are there any threats to this that I / we aren’t thinking about? What could derail this?”

Needs questions – when interacting with your boss, peers or customers, be sure to clarify what they need. Questions like:

  • “What do you need to see come out of this (project, initiative, work, etc…)? What would you like to get?”
  • “Where would you like to go over the next year (or more)? What are your goals?”
  • “How can I help you? What do you need from me?”

The beauty of these questions is multi-faceted. First, it allows you to get the stuff you really need to do your job more effectively. You learn what’s important, what others expect and how to prioritize your time. Your work anxiety drops and your efficiency and effectiveness goes up. Second, you help others improve their thinking. By asking these questions, you force others to think more deeply about what they are saying and asking for. This outcome takes a wonderful page from the “therapy playbook” by helping others get clearer and more insightful. Third, people see you as proactive, adding value in every interaction, making others smarter and moving with confidence. That’s a win, win, win (and maybe even a few more “wins”).

Kelly’s Story

Kelly started as an H.R. consultant for a high tech company about 10 years ago. Admittedly, she knew nothing about technology or the business she was entering into. She lack knowledge and expertise, but Kelly didn’t lack confidence. She started inviting engineers and others out to lunch to pick their brain about the business and the industry. She asked question after question of everyone she talked to. Soon Kelly was hired in as a Manager, then promoted to a Director and rapidly ascended to Chief People Officer of the business. She leap-frogged all of the other H.R. professionals in the organization because of her ability to ask fearless and strategic questions. Questions like, “How is this going to affect our customers?” “How will we make money if we make this strategic shift?” “How will this move affect our risk exposure?” Notice the number of H.R. specific questions? That’s right – none. Today, she is routinely courted by other CEO’s for her ability to not only run H.R. effectively but also her courage to ask the right questions of her peers in senior leadership meetings. She makes everyone smarter. In recent years, her company has acquired a few other companies as it has continued its growth. During the last round of acquisitions, Kelly headed up the financial piece of the acquisition, not the CFO. She was quizzing and challenging the CFO of the acquired company. “You’re the Chief People Officer?” he asked her. “Yep,” Kelly responded without blinking an eye.

If you want to start acting more confidently, start by asking great questions. I promise you’ll notice a difference in no time.

Next up: we’ll talk about how to look more confident. Image matters. It may be time to go shopping…