Confidence is both an art and a study. It’s an art because when you watch someone who’s truly confident in what they’re doing, it’s magic. There should be a museum exhibit dedicated to great moments of confidence in history. It’s a study because, odds are, the most confident person you know wasn’t born that way.
Self-assurance takes a deep knowledge of and comfort with yourself and your field. And even if you’re the CEO of a startup (like me), there will always be something new to test your inner cheerleader—a pitch to a new investor, an interview for a podcast you’ve only listened to twice, a panel where you’re the only woman.
In my experience, knowing your stuff—being prepared, doing your research, knowing your numbers, and gathering input and perspectives—is a good start to building that confidence, but it’s not everything.
When it comes to the big questions like pay raises, promotions, and interviewing with an employer you’re psyched about, the defining factor is practice. Practice answering questions. Practice talking about yourself. Practice asking for more.
You might not have the perfect practice “court” or an easy way to simulate the real scenario, so practice on other things.
I practice negotiating every time I have to call a service provider for a contract renewal. If you’re looking for an easy way to start testing out your negotiating or asking skills, go through your bills and start calling your vendors and asking them for better deals. It’s a really satisfying way to practice with real-time, low-stakes results.
Once you’ve mastered negotiation (and significantly lowered your internet bill), seek out other opportunities to fuel your personal and professional growth. Over coffee, share your new app idea with a friend, and ask them to tell you where they think its weak points are. Make small talk with your barista to see how long you can keep the conversation up without feeling that networking twinge in the pit of your stomach. Ask a stranger for a pen, gum, or a tissue to become more comfortable with asking for favors. People pleasers: firmly say “no” to telemarketers, and tell them to add you to their do-not-call list.
Does it sound like day-to-day life is about to get a lot more awkward? Maybe so. But the worst thing that can happen is that you throw a half-baked idea back in the oven or you fumble your way through talking about the weather until your latte arrives. You also might need to buy your own pens.
Through all this practice, what’s important is that you learn how to cope with rejection, failure, and embarrassment. In essence, you experience the nightmare, naked-in-the-school-cafeteria scenario before it has the chance to happen.
If knowing if you’ve survived the worst of the worst doesn’t make you more confident, then remember this: You, and only you, talked your service provider down from that astronomical rate to a manageable one—at least for now.
That, my friend, is an art.
Ursula Mead is the CEO and cofounder at InHerSight.