You do everything right. Sitting opposite the table from the client you adopt his posture – legs crossed, arms folded. Not in such a way that he would notice, of course. You go about it subtly, shifting your weight and adjusting your position to mirror his every move. You are also pacing his breathing, another trick you’ve learned from your study of NLP. You are becoming a master of the technique of ‘getting into rapport’ with another person, the point being to achieve that state of grace where you both feel comfortable, at ease with each other, and able to conduct your business like two old friends getting together for a drink and a chat. It feels good. You feel energised and, all in all, really quite pleased with yourself.
Then you notice he’s giving you a funny look. He’s leaning forward in his seat, cocking his head inquisitively. He’s evidently asked you a question and is waiting for your reply. You realise with a sinking feeling that for the last couple of minutes you haven’t listened to a single word he’s said.
Do you like paradoxes, those ‘chicken and egg’ conundrums that you can mull over for hours and never get your head around? I’ve got a great one for you, and it’s to do with confidence. So just imagine: you’re about to give a talk to a roomful of people who have paid good money to hear what you have to say. You’re understandably nervous and unfortunately for you the more aware of that feeling you are, the more nervous you become. It’s completely self-fulfilling, you become ensnared in your thoughts like a fish caught in a net, and the chances are that with this mindset you will not perform to the best of your ability, and may come away from the experience with even more negative thinking about yourself. ‘I screwed up. Why do I always screw up?’
Here’s the paradox: If your confidence is something you’re concerned with, then by definition you are not confident. When you are feeling confident, then confidence ceases to be an issue. In fact it’s the last thing on your mind.
Is it possible to think yourself confident, when it was thinking that caused the trouble in the first place?
When we’re feeling insecure any task we have set ourselves can take on a daunting aspect. What should be a very pleasurable experience – something we genuinely look forward to – can turn negative, for no other reason than our thinking has momentarily gone off track. I’ve had every possible good and bad experience over the many years I’ve spent talking to groups of people, and I’ve tried to learn from all of them. Nowadays, since I’ve discovered that my only challenge is to speak from my grounding – and so not really a ‘challenge’ at all – I have begun to enjoy my work more than ever. The only difference between a good experience and a bad one is the quality of our thinking in the moment.
If you have a busy mind, whether you’re speaking to a single client or a roomful, if you’re ‘checking in’ with yourself from moment to moment – ‘How am I doing? How am I coming across?’ (and we’ve all been there) – then the internal ‘noise’ of your thinking may be loud enough to drown out your ability to listen, and properly communicate your message.
To be fair to the unlucky hypothetical NLP practitioner in my story I should add that the whole point of learning a technique like ‘Rapport’ is to master it to the point where it becomes automatic, so you begin to mirror the client’s posture and breathing without really even thinking about it. It served me pretty well over the many years that I used and taught it, but I’ve moved on. My position now is that if these techniques work for you then stick with them but always be aware that your authentic voice is the one that will resonate best with the client. The intelligence is built into the vision of the world you carry with you, so expand your grounding first, and the results will follow effortlessly. Have fun with your models, but never forget that they are models. Being comfortable in your own skin is what will make you fascinating to the client – and you might find he or she starts modelling you!
So I guess the answer to my question is: yes, it is possible to ‘think yourself confident’. All you have to do is stop thinking!
I think that’s what they call a paradox!