Growing up with a speech impediment, I was constantly in awe of confident people. Not only the way they talked, but the way that they moved and made me feel when I was around them.
But it didn’t occur to me until much later that the one quality all my friends seemed to share was great confidence. I must have subconsciously chosen to hide behind them as a way to feel protected, to mask my own insecurities. After all, sometimes the safest place for the quietest kid to sit is behind the strongest kid.
Fast forward to age 23, when I did something really stupid: I got a sales job. Finding myself in this intimidating environment, I did what I always did and I buddied up with the most confident people in my office. It wasn’t because I grasped the strategic importance of allying myself with well-liked people, it was just out of instinct–find the most confident people and hide among them.
This recurring defensive move has turned out to be the smartest thing I’ve ever unknowingly done. And after 38 years of doing it, I have picked up on a few common characteristics that are consistent in confident people–and managed to boost my own confidence in the process. Here are a few of those traits.
The truly confident always try to learn about the perspectives, thoughts, and feelings of the people around them, for the simple reasons that they like people and want to do good by them. They possess an “I can and will learn from everyone” attitude, with the belief that everyone has something to bring to the table.
Next time you’re in a group setting, take note of who guides the conversation and how: Who asks the most thoughtful questions, and who listens more than they speak? Confident people don’t need to control a conversation. They know their own agenda; they want to learn about yours.
Confident people are connectors. They know their goals and do what they can to help others achieve theirs. How do you feel when someone introduces you like, “You have to meet Tom, he was the guy I was telling you about earlier who is great at _____”? Pretty incredible, right? (Much better than just, “Oh, and this is my colleague Tom.”) Confident people intuitively seek out how they can add value to their circle and extend it every chance they get.
Confident people know what they want, and they have the gumption to keep fighting for it, even when the odds are stacked heavily against them. Then again, plenty of people do that. What separates the truly confident from the overconfident is their ability to seek out advice from people with varying points of view.
Not only that, but confident people tend to have the wherewithal to act when presented with a better alternative that challenges their own opinion. It’s not a question of who’s right or wrong. If there’s a better idea, confident people adopt it, then thank the person for their advice and pay the favor forward.
Try not feeling important when someone says to you, “How’s your amazing new project coming along?” Confident people check in on the progress of the people in their lives, because they truly care about their success. They listen attentively, recognize what’s important to others, and then they follow up. It’s a simple yet effective recipe for creating relationships that last, not just making great first impressions and leaving it at that.
When spending time with confident people, you’ll not only see that they’re being attentive, you’ll feel it–in the way they position their bodies and make eye contact. They lean in when they sense something means a great deal to you and touch you when they feel a connection. Researchers have found that this congruence–between what’s said out loud and what’s communicated without words–is crucial for establishing trust. A very subtle touch, like a tap on the shoulder, can go a long way in reinforcing verbal support.
Attention feeds the human appetite on some level for everybody, but the truly confident, as Kareen Abdul Jabbar once put it, just want “to play the game well and go home.”
I recently overheard someone say, “Surely you heard about what I did?” The crowd thinned out pretty quickly after that one. Confident people play for the name on the front of the jersey and deflect most attention onto the team–or onto someone who went unnoticed. They know that sharing the spotlight is far more satisfying than going it alone.
If you know what you want and are on a path to achieving it, what’s stopping you from truly being happy for somebody who fought hard to achieve one of their goals? Confident people take real pleasure in seeing other people succeed and recognize the importance of supporting others. They remember how they, too, are empowered by others at key times in their lives. After all, being truly happy for other people has this funny way of adding to your own happiness.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned, though, is that while we all have fears and flaws, the key is not letting them get in the way of being you and going after what you want. My friends taught me that, and in turn taught me the true definition of confidence: Taking care of your own and giving them the power to one day take care of others.
Michael Thompson is a Barcelona-based freelance consultant working with entrepreneurs and small businesses that focus on career development and communication skills. He is the current brand manager of CORPORE Wear and lives in Catalunya.