Developers Need to Be Confident. But What If You’re Not?

I’ve been a developer and consultant at Gaslight for a minute now. I’ve begun to realize how big of a role humility and confidence play in what I do. I write to you as a confidence expert, but this can be a very real struggle for me.

Peer reviews have revealed that people who otherwise believe in my abilities are frustrated by my perceived lack of confidence. In a meeting where I was asked to talk about myself, I stared into the void and rambled for 20 minutes. When I had finished, I had slid so far down in my lounge chair that I was literally lying down. That was two weeks ago, and it really made me think about what it means to be confident.

Confidence Has a Reputation

Confidence can be a dirty word. Rich, entitled young bullies in ’80s ski movies are confident. Football players smashing kids into lockers in high school hallways are confident. But our high school quarterback was a friend of mine. He was like the kid who wouldn’t sign the coach’s contract in “Dazed and Confused.” He was confident in a respectable way.

Confidence is important in consulting, and it is rarely shallow. It’s hard to fake what software consulting requires. We expect software consultants to utilize techniques and technology at a high level. It is crucial that we ship quality.

But knowing my craft is just a baseline. It’s not enough. If I’m not regularly pitching technical solutions to business problems, I’m not doing my job. Consultants must embody and convey understanding. We face a lot of customers, and they’re often higher-level professional people. Communicating with confidence puts these busy people at ease.

You might deliver good news, or you may need to convey some harsh realities. Clients are happy as often you can make them, but this tweet from @monteiro sums it up.

Humility Is Not Just A Virtue

It’s hard to argue with humility as a virtue. Unfortunately, humility is at odds with confidence, and you can’t be humble with clients. Bollocks. Humility and confidence create a vortex of awesome. So much prime communication is listening and admitting ignorance. Ironically, you win by asking stupid questions, and saying “I don’t know” a lot. It takes a level of confidence to do that.

You’ll hear you should always extensively research your clients before meeting them. It’s true that preparation will greatly boost your confidence. But prepare wisely. It’s not your job to understand a person’s business better than they do. Humble yourself. It’s more crucial to them that you understand your own business. You should know what to ask, so you know how you can best help.

Confidence Takes Work

Readers who are humility challenged may skip to the end of this article. But what if you’re a person who doesn’t always naturally convey confidence? Here’s what I think: We can get better. It takes practice. You have to fail a little. It’s not a bad thing; every failure reforms you a little. Time and experience will naturally be on your side.

I’ve discovered it’s not always as much about being confident as showing confidence. Confident friends have revealed (under interrogation) that sometimes they’re faking it. There are techniques that you can practice. Look a person in the eye for a while, smile, sit up, be the first one to speak.

If faking is hard, go a little deeper. Is there something behind your lack of confidence? Reflect and understand yourself, attempt to be mindful and comfortable in your surroundings. You cannot go wrong with exercise. I’m a big fan of running to clear my head and shake off self-doubt.

All endeavors boil down to people skills. Empathy connects. Communication keeps things running smoothly. Confidence relaxes and draws people to you, but it’s not black-and-white. Some artists struggle daily to interact; then connect with thousands on stages. I can get up in front of a crowd and perform naturally, but some confident people would crumble in that scenario. You have to work on your confidence in the contexts where confidence doesn’t come naturally. At its core, confidence is about believing in yourself. Work and gain confidence and your customers will thank you.

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