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Seven Essential Books

Belief Sells, Confidence Motivates: Rightly or Wrongly

By Barry Maher

It's far easier to make someone else a believer when you're a believer yourself. Let’s say you have a health problem and you go to a doctor. You want him to listen, evaluate and investigate. When he makes his recommendation, you want to hear as much confidence as possible.

"Andrew, you've got the plague. Here's a prescription that will fix you right up," is a lot more reassuring than, "Andrew, I think you either have gout or it could be scurvy. Or possibly lupus. Then again, it might just be the flu or a bad cold. I'll write you a prescription. Maybe the drugs will make it go away, maybe they won't, and you might want to call me if you think they make it worse."

A subordinate I'd inherited once asked me, "Do you think it would be okay if I got some sort of raise, eventually at least?" Hardly a question asked by someone convinced of the overwhelming force of his case. Maybe he was going for a pity raise.

A few months later, one of my top people approached me for a pay increase. She concluded by saying, "So that's why a 20 percent raise makes such perfect sense. I know it's not time for my yearly review and I know 20 percent is a lot more than normal, but obviously these aren't normal circumstances. I just want to make sure I can count on your backing."

She didn't get the raise simply because she expected to get it. But she did get the raise. I got her more than she expected, bringing her into line with the top people in her position in the company. Which is exactly what she deserved.

Confidence sells. And the closer confidence gets to absolute conviction the more powerful it becomes. That's why crazy people can sometimes be so convincing. Hitler never had a moment's doubt or hesitation. His belief was so absolute that an entire country was swept along in his insanity.

At one point, I was asked to consult on a start-up operation by a potential client who soon turned out to be a megalomaniac. The man was on drugs and under psychiatric care and absolutely convinced that he was going to revolutionalize consumer purchasing.

What was astonishing was how many intelligent people he'd pulled into his fantasy, including a high ranking ex-military officer and the chairman of the board of a leading Fortune 100 company. Investors were throwing money at him, and a telecommunications giant gave him several million dollars worth of equipment on credit. None of them were bothered by the fact that the man's conception of the business he was creating changed hourly. And that, because of that, no one, least of all the poor man himself, had any idea of what the final product he was developing might be.

Such is the power of confidence. In the late 90s of course, the above model became standard operating procedure for Internet start-ups.

Confidence is also why people too obtuse to understand what's wrong with their position sometimes succeed in convincing others. As Bertram Russell said, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

That's not the kind of confidence you want to project. That type of confidence is fragile and brittle. And it's too often revealed as false--ideally sooner rather than later--when it's buffeted by reality. The confidence you need to project comes from having made your proposal the best it can possibly be, from understanding the downside and having made peace with it, from making the What’s-In-It-For-Them as potent as it can possibly be for each of the Thems you’re trying to bring on board.

And it comes from laying your cards out on the table, granting the people you're dealing with their legitimate points when they have doubts. (Grant their legitimate points and the points you need to make your case become far more believable.) So they can make a completely informed decision. And knowing that if they do, in most cases, they should go along with what you’re proposing.

That's real confidence. The operative word being real. If you can’t do that with whatever it is you’re advocating, maybe you should be advocating something else.

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