The Confidence Guy

Wired into Truly Confident Living

Category: ‘Making decisions’

Nov 01

The furore over the prank phonecalls made by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross has been hard to avoid. Headline news items told us how out of order the phone calls were and asked questions of the BBC and how they could let such content go out on air.

With Russell Brand resigning, Jonathan Ross on a 3 month suspension and the much respected Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas also having resigned, it now looks like the nature of comedy on the BBC is now subject to review and control.

Opinions vary, and while I didn’t find myself laughing at their vidcast I happen to think the headlines and the decisions made are entirely out of proportion with what happened. The mighty Terry Wogan agrees with me, so I must be onto something.

But that’s not what I want to write about now (actually, I do want to write about how ridiculous the whole thing is but I’ll hold myself in check for now), what’s interesting for me is whether Brand and Ross had become over confident and perhaps strayed into arrogance.

Both presenters were certainly on top of their game. Brand’s a big name here in the UK and has been making waves in USA with his first movie and hosting duties on the MTV Music Awards (where he famously called President Bush a ‘retard’ – I don’t remember calls for him to be fired for that). Ross has a huge cult following on his radio show and a ratings-winning chat show that attracts the best stars and talent and is one of the BBC’s flagship programmes.

So here’s the thing. If you’re at the top of your game, with a huge fan-base, a great reputation, a platform that lets you do what you want how you want to do it and a huge pay-packet to reward you for doing what you’ve been doing and encourage you to do more of it, it’s not difficult to see how someone can become a little over-confident.

That kind of position can lead to complacency and arrogance – a belief that your position is solid and that you can do whatever you want. Sooner or later you’re going to piss someone off, right?

Over confidence and arrogance gives room to stray into unacceptable behaviour.

Over confidence opens the door to doing whatever you want whenever you want to do it, so yes, I think both Brand and Ross had become over-confident and even strayed into arrogance. As their apologies have shown, they weren’t thinking about the impact of what they were doing, and even though they knew it was on the boundary of acceptability they just did it because they thought it was silly and funny.

They did what they did because it made them laugh in a juvenile way and because they thought their audience would get what they were doing. Which the vast majority of their audience did, considering that just 2 people made a complaint after the prank calls were aired, with the remaining thousands of complaints coming in once the story hit the headlines.

While they may have been over-confident, I’m not suggesting that they – or you – should filter their behaviour so as to please everyone else. That’s exactly the opposite of what I coach people to do and filtering what you do will only result in a filtered down, watery version of you. Yuck.

It was their act, their shtick.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a little voice in the backs of their heads that was telling them that they were really pushing their luck. I’m willing to bet that somewhere inside they knew that they were going to cause a stir and that they kept on going simply because they were performing.

What they did might have lacked good judgement but they wouldn’t have made it this far in their careers if they questioned everything they did and applied a filter to it.

So there’s a balance here. You shouldn’t filter what you do in order to please others because that will only strip your confidence and your ability to do what you’re best at, but neither should you ignore the impact of what you do.

When you choose the behaviour you have to be willing to be responsible for what happens as a direct result. If you’re over-confident or straying into arrogance then the outcome of your actions can have a much wider impact – and that means you have to be ready to take more responsibility.

God knows there have been times when I’ve shot my mouth off without thinking and had to apologise to people because I went too far with a joke and caused offence.

Both Brand and Ross acknowledge that they went too far and I suspect they know they were over confident. They took responsibility for the impact of their actions and made an apology which was accepted.

That should have been that. Knuckles rapped, lesson learned. Back to doing what they do best.

If British comedy becomes the next victim then the knee-jerk decision makers will need to have the confidence and willingness to stand up in a similar way as Brand and Ross to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

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Jul 15

I’m a frequent visitor to The Onion, and stumbled across this great video.

It reminded me how sometimes the trickiest thing to do is not to begin something, but to let go and move on.

Not so long ago I was coaching full time and working from home every day. My commute was from my bedroom, down the hall into my home office. The only time I spoke with people was ordering my morning coffee and while on the phone with a client, which ended when the session was up.

I have to admit to going stir crazy and being bored silly. As much as I loved and still love coaching, doing it from home on a full-time basis doesn’t work for me. I need to be around people a whole lot more than that.

So I needed to make a different decision, and switching to coaching part-time wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. It felt like I was giving up on something that meant a huge amount to me, it felt like I was letting down my coaching peers and it felt like I’d be seen as quitting.

Nevertheless, I knew I needed more stimulation and more human interaction, and it was clear that that was more important to me than sticking with a full-time coaching business. I took a deep breath and went for it, and it was most certainly the right move.

The safe and stupid thing for me to do was to keep doing what I’d been doing simply because it was a known quantity, but the confident thing for me to do was to make a decision to move on. That’s a decision you need to make if:

  1. What you’re doing no longer matters to you in the way it once did, and has no relevance to what matters to you now.
  2. Neither what you’re doing or what you’ll gain along the way will contribute towards something that matters to you (in whatever measure), or is part of the game you really want to play.
  3. You’re squeezing yourself into a box that’s too small for you, pigeon-holing yourself in a way that, left unchecked, will damage your sense of self.

Feel free to write the worlds foremost text on anteaters, igloos or hairnets if that’s what matters to you. Otherwise, make a decision to let go and move on.

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May 20

Inspired partly by this brilliant coaching spoof from The Daily Show, I wanted to tell you why you’ll always stand to lose out in life.

Yeah, I know, I probably shouldn’t be using the ‘L’ word because I’m a coach and all that, but there’s a good reason I mention it. That reason is this:

You Will Lose

Gimme a second to explain. When I’m working with a client I do whatever I can to help them make good decisions and get going with what’s most important to them, but often there’s One Big Thing that gets in the way of making progress. The simple fact is that right along with everything you stand to gain from what you’re working on and everything you’re putting in place, there also comes a loss.

Read that last sentence again, it’s important. It means that whatever you stand to gain – a fantastic new job, a fun relationship that gives you what you really need, an unshakeable sense of who you are or just a healthy sense of perspective – you’ll lose something else in the process.

Gain a relationship and lose your independence or time with friends or family. Gain a new job and lose your familiarity with your current job or lose out on free time. Gain a new way of looking at something and lose the comfort of seeing things the way you used to.

When I said “Yes” to taking on the Big Messy Project at my ad agency, I gained a bunch of great colleagues, a sizable challenge and a good fee; but I lost a great deal of time for writing and coaching.

This is one of the reasons we stop ourselves doing things we want and stay right where we are instead, because we don’t look at the equation between what we stand to lose and what we stand to gain.

What you stand to lose has a stronger influence over you than what you stand to gain, and that’s why this is such a big deal. The influence over you from any potential loss will outway the influence from any potential gain, unless, that is, you deliberately intervene.

It’s only by deliberately looking at the gain/loss equation that you can make a decision based on what’s most important to you rather than what that feeling of unease, uncertainty, unfamiliarity, fear or even sadness that comes with loss. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Think of something you want to do but haven’t got off the starting blocks with yet. What have you been putting off that’s important to you? Where haven’t you been moving forwards where you want to? Write it down.
  2. Write down the specifics of what you stand to gain by getting moving. What are the benefits? What would it mean to you? How would it feel to Step up and great a better game?
    Next, write down what you stand to lose by getting moving. What will you have to leave behind? What does it mean you have to let go of? How will things change?
  3. Now look at what you stand to gain against what you stand to lose. What jumps out at you as most important? Imagine yourself in the future having got moving with what you’ve been putting off, having gained and lost along the way – how do you feel now?
  4. How can you manage or minimise what you stand to lose? How can shift your viewpoint so that you’re okay with what you stand to lose? What’s a different way you can look at things so that it doesn’t look like a loss at all?

The worst thing you can do is make an automatic choice based entirely on what you’ll lose, without ever being aware of what you’ll gain.

Do things that way, and you’ll lose more than you’ll ever know.

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Mar 12

I remember breakfast time one morning, some 7 or 8 years ago. I was standing in front of an open cupboard in my kitchen, my eyes flicking between a box of Frosties and a box of Cornflakes, trying to decide which to have for breakfast. I stood there for 5 minutes, until – utterly frustrated – I slammed the cupboard door shut and went without breakfast altogether.

I’ve learned to make decisions quicker and easier now and it’s something that I’ll often work with clients to improve. Here are my 5 ways to make confident decisions. Oh, I decided on cranberry granola this morning, by the way.

  1. Test them against your values.
    Your values are the building blocks, cornerstones and foundations for who you are, and can be things in yourself, others or out there in the world that are most important to you. Know your values and you get the chance to express them, and when you do that all it means is that you’re expressing who you really are, way down inside. It feels pretty amazing.

    So how do your values fit into decision making? Simple. When you’re faced with a tricky decision you can line up your different choices and ask “Which one of these most honours my values?” The decision that’s most in line with your values will be the best decision for you (even if it’s not the simplest or most practical), because it fits with who you are and what’s most important to you. Told you it was simple.

  2. Be like Columbo.
    When I was growing up I used to love rainy Sunday afternoons watching Columbo, and loved the bit at the end where he’d sidle up to the Bad Guy, say “Just one more thing” and then proceed to blow apart the bad guys alibi. Genius. What Columbo had in spades, other than a penchant for cubans and raincoats, was a great trust in his intuition. In every episode, from the very moment he first meets the bad guy, he knows ‘whodunnit’ – and more importantly, he trusts it.

    What does your intuition tell you is the ‘right’ decision for you. Forget about all the “What if’s” and the details – what does your gut tell you? Learn to listen to your intuition, it knows what it’s talking about.

  3. It just doesn’t matter.
    My decision between Frostie’s and Cornflakes wasn’t a biggie. Whichever I chose, there were never going to be any huge consequences and the ripples from that decision wouldn’t have been felt much further than the end of my spoon. The point is, sometimes it just doesn’t matter which way you go.

    It’s not just tiny, silly little breakfast-related decisions either – with bigger decisions it’s easy to get wrapped up in second guessing yourself, going round in circles and over-complicating things, when – if you get right down to it – it just doesn’t matter.

    Going round in circles is only going to make you dizzy, so stop it. Ask yourself this question – if your future happiness wasn’t dependent on your decision (and it isn’t, by the way), which way would you go?

  4. Have enough information.
    By all means look at the facts before you make a complex decision. By all means weigh up the pro’s and con’s so that you can get an understanding of the ‘science’ behind a decision, but be careful. There’s a big difference between knowing enough to make a choice, and knowing everything to make choice.

    When you feel that happening, stop yourself, get a change of environment and ask yourself “What do I really need to know to be able to make this decision?

  5. Doubt vs The Gremlin.
    Everyone has a part of themselves that doesn’t like change, a part that uses every trick in the book to avoid making decisions so that you can stay exactly where you are. I call it the Gremlin, and it’s a part of you that would rather avoid making decisions altogether rather than run the risk of making a bad one or screwing up.

    This is a world away from having doubts. Doubts are valid concerns about a possible course of action, or reasonable concerns about what might be in store. Your doubts are there to help you prepare for change and prepare for what could happen.

    Knowing the difference between your doubts and your Gremlin helps you clarify what’s real and what’s imagined, what’s relevant and what isn’t relevant.

I use these myself – different strategies for different decisions at different times – and I always find something that works.

Let me know how you get on with them.

Feb 11

The effect’s of the Writer’s Strike are rippling out pretty wide now. The Autumn pilot season will be full of reality shows, Autumn 2009 in the cinema is likely to be pretty quiet, and people in the industry are losing their jobs as a result.

Did the members of the Writer’s Guild know all of this would happen?

Some of it, sure they did. But the rest is probably an unpleasant surprise. The point is that life is pretty damn complicated these days. A butterfly flaps its wings in China and the next thing you know your workload doubles and your boiler packs up (I’m currently boiling kettles to wash).

Those complications didn’t stop the Writers Guild from making a difficult choice and sticking to their guns, and it’s that web of complications that makes it pretty hard for you to see to step up and tackle tricky choices with confidence.

Vicky’s a client who landed a senior post in a law firm in London, and while we were working together she came to a session saying that she had to fire someone (check out Guy Kawasaki’s excellent post on the art of firing someone if you’re in the same boat). Now, this is never going to be a pleasant thing to have to do, but it’s a reality of the business world that people are fired every day and someone has to do the firing. People just like you and me have to face the reality that one day it could be us giving the poor schmo the bad news.

She was pretty much paralysed by having to do it, and came to the session telling me that this guy had a young family and was projecting forwards about all the terrible things that might happen to him and his family when she says those two fateful words “You’re fired.

Vicky was not only taking responsibility for the act of firing him, but for everything that followed

That was her mistake, and once she’d finished letting me know about all the terrible things that might happen to the guy, I simply said to her, “What makes you think that what happens to him is your responsibility?”

There’s a massive difference between thinking your decisions through and considering every variable of a decision. Do that and you’ll find yourself on a one way trip to I’m-paralysed-by-indecision-ville. Keep doing that and your self-confidence will hit a new low.

With Vicky, we took a good look at what was stopping her from taking action, and pretty soon she saw that she was:

  1. Conjuring up fictitious scenarios that painted a black picture.
  2. Taking personal responsibility for each outcome, real and imagined.
  3. Making herself feel smaller than the task, forgetting entirely about her ability to get great results.

The bottom line is that life will always have difficult choices. Some of your choices may well have a negative impact on other people.

There, I said it. Get used to it.

While it’s generally a good idea to consider the impact of your choices or to minimise the negative effects of them, those considerations don’t need to affect the choice itself.

PS: By the way, Vicky reported back to me that the guy she fired was looking for another job in a different field anyway, and that she’d done him a favour because he was feeling guilty about not putting his all in.

Jan 12

What are you whining about? What is there in your life that you’d like to change? If you could feel different about something how would you want to feel?

I’m willing to bet that there’s something that’s niggling you, getting your goat, draining your energy or frustrating you So why haven’t you done anything about it?

Angela was a client who had a couple of things that were bugging her. One was about her boyfriend who seemed to have drifted away and wasn’t spending as much time with her as she wanted, and the second was a strained relationship with her boss following a blunder that her team made on a project she was running. Both of these things were buzzing around her head and getting her down, for the simple reason that she believed she was powerless to do anything about them.

She’d lost confidence in her ability to make change happen, was waiting for things to change by themselves and was dangerously close to playing the role of victim.

What she needed to do was figure out that she could still make choices, and to get her confidence back I took Angela through these 3 steps:

  1. We looked at the difference between how she was looking at things right then and how she used to look at things when she felt confident about what she was doing. It became pretty clear that when she was feeling good she was constantly ready to make decisions – even if she didn’t recognise just how many decisions she was really making. She just tackled what needed to be tackled and used her strengths to get results.
  2. We looked at where she was dodging responsibility for what was happening. It turned out that she wasn’t spending quality time with her boyfriend and her own communication with him had deteriorated.

    At work it turned out that she was resentful towards her boss for making her feel small and incapable, and she was holding that resentment and hurt pretty close. She also saw that she was walking on tip-toes and playing it safe in her work to avoid a similar situation.

  3. Having acknowledged the facts about what she was dodging the next step was simply to recognise that she was allowed to make any choice at any time. We looked at some options, looked at what decisions she could take that would bring her back to her best and free her up from the powerlessness and resentment. She was way ahead of me and didn’t need any further encouragement to get moving – she was just a little stunned that she hadn’t seen it before.

We human beings have an unparalleled level of influence over our lives and our environment, and every step we make is shaped by the choices we make. At any minute of any day you’re able to make a choice, and you’re only moments away from your next one.

Like Angela, when you forget that you have the capacity to make decisions you’re dodging responsibility for what happens next. Get out there and make the decisions that are relevant and really matter to you.

That’s true confidence.

Jan 06

“I hope you can help me with something Steve. I hate my job. I really do. I want to quit because I hate where I work and I dread Monday mornings, especially now the Holiday’s are over.

The people are fine for the most part, and some of the people I work with have become friends, but I hate the way I have to work and don’t get what my boss is doing at all. What if quitting is the wrong thing to do? I’m scared that if I leave it might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Should I stick with it?”

– Nicole B. in LA

Oh Nicole, Nicole, Nicole. Hate’s a strong word, and you’ve it used with relish. It’s abundantly clear that you’re either in the wrong job or the wrong company, and here’s the thing – you don’t owe them anything. That might sound heartless or mercenary, but it’s true. When you went to work for them you signed a contract, which means that you sell them your time, your skills and your experience in exchange for a salary and benefits. When you look at the cold, hard facts it’s a business exchange – you have something that’s of value to them and they’re paying you for it.

That means that if the deal isn’t working out for you in the way you’d like it to you’re well within your rights to change things and move on. You ask me if it’s the wrong thing to do and if you should stick it out in your organisation. What’s the impact of you doing that? What would it be like to spend another 6 months or a year there? Zoom forwards to the end of the the year and see how you’d feel if you stuck around.

It’s natural to be scared about quitting work, especially if you don’t have anything else lined up just yet. That doesn’t need to hold you back from looking at your options and seeing what else is out there, and I guarantee you there are jobs out there with your name on them. I think you’d probably agree that the piece of you that’s scared or is thinking that you might as well stick it out is the small, scared, hide your head under the covers part. It’s the part of you that’s happy to settle and wants to aim low so you don’t get disappointed or run the risk of screwing up. That’s okay, we all have that. The trick is to be aware of it and manage it so that it doesn’t hold you back and end up damaging your sense of who you are.

So what about the better part of you? What about the part of you who’s massively capable and knows that you can get more of the good stuff? What would that part of you do here?

A big question here is is about the kind of experience you want to have in your work. Sure, you could stick it out and things may change, but it seems like you know full well what your experience of your workplace is. So what kind of experience do you want in your work and your career?

It sounds to me like you’re selling yourself short Nicole. Strike a balance between putting energy into doing your job well enough and looking at your options, and good luck for whatever happens next.

Stay tuned. Lots more articles coming up describing key strategies that will help you if you’re in a similar place to Nicole…