It’s not your actual competence that counts. It’s how people perceive your competence that makes the difference. In this reading recommendation, mentalist and business professor Jack Nasher offers tips to help you appear more competent, attractive, intelligent, and important.
Table of Contents
Mentalist Jack Nasher offers tips for judging other people’s competence and for helping other people judge yours.
Self-Help, Relationships, Communication Skills, Interpersonal Relations, Leadership and Motivation
Mentalist Jack Nasher offers tips to help you appear more competent, attractive, intelligent and important. He argues that your actual competence matters little compared with your perceived competence. He revels in people’s judgmental reflexes. Gaming them is the point of his book. But without judgment, how do you know whom to trust with personal and professional assignments? He accepts that accurately judging someone else’s competence can be extremely difficult. To overcome the challenge, Nasher presents his “eight pillars of competence” – proven techniques, tools and tactics derived from decades of psychological research.
- To convince people of your competence, use the “impression management” tools of the “eight pillars of competence.”
- Competence and brilliance aren’t necessarily self-evident; you must showcase your qualities.
- Manage people’s anticipation, so they will expect you to be competent.
- Associate yourself with good news.
- Showcase specific elements of the “competence formula”: performance, ability, motivation, dealing with difficulty and luck.
- Master verbal and nonverbal communication.
- The greater your attraction and popularity, the greater will be your perceived competence. Project tact, authenticity and self-confidence.
- Use the “power of symbols” to build the most reliable measure of your competence: your habitus – the way you look and act.
- Judging other people’s competence is hard; recognizing their incompetence is easier.
To convince people of your competence, use the “impression management” tools of the “eight pillars of competence.”
It’s not your actual competence that counts. It’s how people perceive your competence that makes the difference. You can apply impression management techniques, tools and tactics to convince others of your competence. Persuading others gives you a tremendous advantage over people who are equally competent but can’t differentiate themselves. Specific tools, techniques and tactics make up the eight pillars of competence.
First, competence and brilliance aren’t necessarily self-evident; you must showcase your qualities.
Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten convinced world-class violinist Joshua Bell to perform as a street musician during rush hour at the busy L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, DC. Bell’s violin of choice was a 1713 Stradivarius, valued at around $4 million. He played the epitome of violin pieces, “Chaconne” from Partita No. II by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“Brilliance does not speak for itself. You can, in fact, be the best in the world and no one will notice.”
Bell’s performance barely caused a stir. People mostly ignored him. His total donated earnings for the day was $32.17. Three days earlier, Bell had played to a full house at Boston Symphony Hall.
Competence, even brilliance, isn’t self-evident. You must showcase your skills, expertise and competence, so they resonate most strongly with those whom you want to impress.
Second, manage people’s anticipation, so they will expect you to be competent.
To demonstrate your competence, use “expectation management” to direct other people’s anticipation and shape positive perceptions of your competence. When you help people reduce or eliminate anxiety about dealing with a stranger – in this case, you – you benefit. Demonstrate confidence in yourself. Subtly refer to your past successes in areas that matter to those whose support you require.
Use the technique of priming your audience by projecting competence from within. For example, suppose your boss asks you to stand in front of your colleagues and answer several questions. “What are you…good at?” “What was your greatest professional success?” “Why should you, of all people, take on the responsibility for an upcoming project?” “Why should anyone be led by you?” Prime yourself by developing answers in advance to these and other likely questions.
In 1980, Senator Ted Kennedy campaigned for the US presidency. During a high-profile TV interview, newsman Roger Mudd asked Kennedy, “Why are you running for president?” Ten incredibly long seconds passed – an eternity of dead air – before Kennedy came up with an answer. This was the precise moment when Kennedy’s presidential campaign inexorably started downhill. Prime yourself to answer probable questions from bosses, clients and job interviewers. Have clear answers ready.
Third, associate yourself with good news.
At the annual Detroit Motor Show, automobile manufacturers hire beautiful hostesses to stand next to cars. The hostesses demonstrate the power of association, also known as the “halo effect.” Use this tactic to improve how people perceive your competence.
“Positive news radiates positively over every other aspect of a person or event, and bad news does so negatively.”
Always deliver good news face-to-face, not by phone or email. If you make a presentation sharing good news, stretch it out as long as possible. After your presentation, don’t immediately retreat from the podium. Every second you stand there will solidify your association with that good news.
Fourth, showcase specific elements of the “competence formula”: performance, ability, motivation, dealing with difficulty and luck.
You can’t directly assess the factor by which competence contributes to successful performance and/or achievement. Many aspects play a part in any successful outcome. Elements of the competence formula include performance, ability, motivation, dealing with difficulty and luck.
Politicians, celebrities, and other prominent people influence people’s opinions. For example, during his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the graduating students about the severe hardships he faced before he became a business legend. “I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.”
Former US president Bill Clinton often told audiences about his painful life as a child. His father died before Clinton was born, and he and his family suffered regular abuse from his alcoholic stepfather.
Despite their difficulties early in life, Clinton and Jobs overcame their individual challenges to rise to the top of their professions. Their sad stories are meant to demonstrate their competence to others. Use this persuasion principle to illustrate that you have been able to triumph over adversity because of your character.
Fifth and sixth, master verbal and nonverbal communication.
More than any other technique, “power talking” will enable you to maximize how others perceive your competence. Linguist Robin Lakoff believes that women routinely fall into “powerless speech patterns,” including showing hesitation, trivializing phrases such as “you know” or “pretty good,” and excessive politeness, for example, “Won’t you please close the door?”
“Success or failure has surprisingly little influence on the perception of competence. One can appear to be competent despite vast failure and seem incompetent in the midst of immense success.”
Powerless speech indicates a lack of status. On the other hand, power talking suggests elevated social status. To speak powerfully, avoid the “uhs.” Don’t repeat yourself. Make your speech – and speech patterns – crystal clear and direct.
An audience of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers once sat through a high-profile lecture entitled “Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education.” The presenter introduced himself as Dr. Myron L. Fox, and the learned audience loved his speech. What his audience didn’t know was that his information was utter nonsense.
“The powerless speaker does not expect to be taken seriously and will therefore not be taken seriously.”
Dr. Fox was an actor paid to deliver a presentation of gibberish and double-talk – but to do so with great enthusiasm and the most positive, engaging body language possible. The actor, who possessed no specialized game-theory knowledge, sold his audience on his expertise and professional competence by using a confident manner, direct eye contact, enthusiastic delivery and live-wire body language.
In another experiment, the same faux Dr. Fox delivered the same, idiotic presentation to another group of similar professionals – but this time, without displaying any confidence or engaging body language. As expected, his second presentation of gobbledygook totally bombed.
What made the difference the second time was Dr. Fox’s lack of enthusiasm and positivity. When you speak, be consistently upbeat and enthusiastic and establish strong eye contact – which will positively influence people’s perception of you as a person and therefore of your competence.
Seventh, the greater your attraction and popularity, the greater will be your perceived competence. Project tact, authenticity and self-confidence.
The more popular you are, the greater will be your perceived competence. The same is true about being more attractive. Popularity and attractiveness are positive indicators. Thanks to the halo effect, these factors enhance all other personal attributes, including perceived competence. The better you can increase your popularity and attractiveness, the more competent you will seem. You can increase your popularity three ways:
- Ingratiation – People like you more the more you compliment them. This is true even of obvious flattery. Starting your compliments with the right introductory phrasing makes them seem more credible – for example, “You might not want to hear this, but…”
- “Opinion conformity” – People like people who agree with their opinions. But if you go overboard, you’ll come across as a toady.
- Self-presentation – Most people intuitively know how to win the favor of others. Being kind and courteous is a great place to start. Underline the similarities you share with others.
Personal attractiveness has been a compelling factor for humankind since the Stone Age. In the earliest times, humans used charcoal and lead sulfide to create black eye shadow to enhance their beauty. People have been trying to look good ever since. Keep in mind how people perceive beauty. Remember four factors when it comes to physical attractiveness:
- For women, what counts most is physique – your weight vis-à-vis your proportions.
- For men, what counts most is facial attractiveness.
- When it comes to women’s faces, most people prefer features like full lips, big eyes and a small nose. Other attractive features – all of which women can control – are darker, thinner eyebrows; thicker, longer, darker eyelashes; no dark circles under the eyes; and tanned skin. Good use of make-up – another control factor – increases women’s attractiveness.
- In general, people consider blonde women more attractive than brunettes. Most people think women with brown hair are more intelligent, a factor that weighs more heavily in perceived competence than attractiveness.
Eighth, use the “power of symbols” to build the most reliable measure of your competence: your habitus – the way you look and act.
Many perceptions rely on symbols. Status symbols such as a company car, a title on a business card, a frequent flyer card and a corporate credit card will shape what people think about you and how they act toward you. You can control some of the powerful symbols that help define you to the world.
Consider the concept of habitus, which French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describes as a “person’s behavior and appearance, including his or her clothing, language and apparent lifestyle.”
People use habitus to determine someone’s status, and it’s the most reliable measure of a person’s competence. The habitus elements you choose will define you to the world. Your clothing, your lifestyle choices, and so on will affect how others perceive you and your competence.
“People appear competent when dressed formally and likable when dressed casually.”
In addition to habitus, try utilizing the concept of BIRGing, which means “Basking in Reflected Glory” – a technique that enables you to impress others with minimal effort, though it has nothing to do with competence, perceived or otherwise. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini first identified BIRGing as a strategy. BIRGing means that your status automatically goes up if you can demonstrate a connection – however slight – with someone of greater status. For BIRGing not to backfire and make you appear to be namedropping, offer your connection with tact and subtlety.
For instance, German psychologist Hans-Dieter Mummendey delivered a lecture at a New York psychology symposium. Afterward, the fact that he told his audience that he had run into comedian Woody Allen on his way to the symposium meant more to Mummendey’s colleagues than the remarks Mummendey made from the podium.
According to Mummendey, the ties that bind a lower-status person to a higher-status person might be “common origin, common place of residence or work, common political or religious beliefs, [enjoying the] same sport or other leisure activities,” and “sameness or similarities in any appearance in relation to clothing or similar things.”
Judging other people’s competence is hard; recognizing their incompetence is easier.
Reliably determining competence in others is a valuable skill. This takes on crucial significance when it comes, for example, to selecting a lawyer, a surgeon or a financial professional.
“It is…much more difficult to recognize true competence than to expose mere incompetence.”
Because accurately determining someone’s competence is so difficult, try to judge his or her intelligence instead. Intelligence directly relates to and points to competence. You can evaluate intelligence with relative accuracy through simple observation. Highly intelligent people generally:
- Speak clearly and cogently without any hesitation.
- Establish strong eye contact during conversation with people.
- Possess ample self-confidence.
- Stay alert and react quickly.
Use several assessments to determine another person’s intelligence:
- Does the person ask intelligent questions?
- Can the person separate important from unimportant factors?
- When you present a particular issue that needs resolution, does he or she respond with the most logical, appropriate answers?
- Is the person able to consider all the possible options for resolving the issue?
- Can he or she properly weigh the pros and cons for each option?
NASHER Negotiation Institute founder Jack Nasher is an internationally best-selling author, an authority on reading and influencing people, and a visiting professor at Stanford University. As a mentalist, he demonstrates mind mysteries at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 The Perception of Brilliance: Actual versus Perceived Competence
The Assessment Problem
Just World Principle
A Question of Technique
CHAPTER 2 The Anticipation Effect: Managing Expectations to Show Your Expertise
The Richest Man in the World
From Modesty to Boasting
Modesty Is . . . ?
CHAPTER 3 Good News, Bad News: Using the Power of Association
The Power of Association
Delivering Good News
Bearing Bad News
The Primacy Effect
CHAPTER 4 The Competence Formula: Framing Your Competence
The Amazing Fitzjames
Tough and Unlucky
CHAPTER 5 Verbal Communication: How to Speak like an Expert
As Seen on TV
Unnecessary Complications (Skip This Section!)
CHAPTER 6 Nonverbal Communication: How to Move like an Expert
The Effects of Nonverbal Communication
Near and Far
Stand Properly, Sit Properly
CHAPTER 7 Beautiful and Popular: How to Increase Your Popularity and Attractiveness
The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings
CHAPTER 8 Status: The Power of Symbols
Image Consultancy for Consultants
Status and Competence
BIRGing: Using Indirect Status
Conclusion: What Now?
Epilogue: Science and the World
About the Author
Stay tuned for book review…