What top performers do:
1. Get barely enough information.
2. Don't overthink it.
3. Act rapidly.
When you're learning how to communicate with confidence, it's crucial to take action quickly. The great thing about people skills is that you get plenty of chances to practice.
Let's talk about a time where I wasn't a top performer...
Glass flew in all directions.
The crowd cheered. They wanted more.
Was this The Purge!?
People were tossing (and missing) bottles into a trash can 25 feet away from them. It was some kind of contest.
My wife signed up for a kickball team, and they were having a meet-and-greet at a local dive bar.
All these people seemed to know each other, they were laughing and joking around.
I was sitting there, my shirt felt uncomfortable. Why did I wear this shoes? I wanted to leave.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” I thought.
At one point or another, we’ve all had moments like this.
We want to have confident conversations with people, make new friends, or meet new people, but sometimes we get in our own way.
How can we reliably feel confident in conversations? How can we smoothly contribute without having much time to think of what to say?
And how can we do all this while feeling authentic?
You’re about to learn the mindsets, skill sets, and systems that will help you hone your confident communication skills.
Mindset #1: Everyone wants to have a good time
Most people have a shared goal: have a good time.
Something never said by a group of people: “We’re having too much fun.”
Typically, people just want to have a good time. Keeping this shared goal in mind is great, because it takes away any thoughts of “winning and losing.”
When you’re thinking about winning and losing, you’ll be subtly comparing yourself to others. Not a game you want to play.
With the mindset of “everyone wants to have a good time,” you’re in a much better position to perform because your social compass will be pointing in the right direction.
This mindset is also effective because it places you in an external mindset (e.g. What can I GIVE socially) instead of an internal mindset (e.g. What can I HAVE socially).
Mindset #2: No one is judging you. They’re too busy wondering if you’re judging them.
From time to time, I see concerns from my private coaching clients and readers that other people are thinking the WORST about them.
Why do we do this?
Because of a wonderful concept called the negativity bias.
The negativity bias was a great thing for our ancestors. It was effective for avoiding sabretooth tigers. It’s not great for reading people’s minds at a dinner party.
When we're in an uncertain environment, our brains constantly try to fill in the gaps. And our default mode as humans skews negative because staying alive is good.
Helpful reframe: We’re ALL hardwired to fear social judgment, so ask yourself: "How can I help OTHER people feel more accepted?"
The benefit here is twofold:
Awareness of the negativity bias will help you process those feelings of perceived judgment. You can even say to yourself: “That’s just the negativity bias thinking.” This will help you move on from that unproductive emotion.
It levels the playing field. If everyone struggles with perceived social judgment, you can be the guy who helps buck the trend by helping people feel accepted.
This mindset is also helpful because it shifts your perspective from the internal (yourself) to the external (others).
That's a huge win.
Mindset #3: Boldness makes confident conversations easier
Being bold will have a higher payoff than hesitating.
Ever notice how some people are bold?
They’ll walk up to a new group without hesitation.
They’ll ask for a phone number smoothly.
They’ll speak up in a meeting.
Ever wonder how they do that?
There’s a quote that I like: "Feel the fear – and do it anyway."
They still feel fear. They take action anyway.
Note: Being bold doesn’t mean you need to dominate the conversation.
But it does mean:
When the group doesn’t know where to grab a bite to eat, you step up and propose a solution.
A good role to assign yourself is that of the host. A good host is bold.
When you hesitate, you’re stuck in an uncomfortable “in-between” state that leaves you unsure about what actions to take.
Fortune favors the bold.
Mindsets are a great place to start because they lay the groundwork for skill sets.
The interesting thing is. The more you take action with skill sets, the greater shift you’ll notice in your mindset.
It’s a virtuous cycle, a fly wheel that spins faster and faster as you practice.
When we’re bold, we’re rewriting our story of “I’m not the kind of person who could own a room, connect with anyone, or be charismatic.”
It’s time to be bold.
Here are crucial skill sets that will help you have confident conversations.
Skill Set #1: The +10% Rule
How to practice this:
When joining a conversation, be 10% more enthusiastic about topics, smile more, and speak a little louder.
When you have 10% higher energy, you’ll never run the risk of awkwardly hovering on the outside of a group and nodding along. (We’ve all done it. No shame)
It’s OKAY to make a little splash when you join a conversation. Remember, fortune favors the bold.
Here are a couple of helpful scripts to get you started joining conversations:
Script #1: “Hey guys, do you mind if I hang out for a couple of minutes?”
Why this works: You’re asking for permission to join their conversation, coupled with a time constraint.
Asking for permission is a very subtle form of persuasion. It takes the other person’s feelings into consideration.
A time constraint is crucial because it answers a main objection in people’s minds: “Will this person overstay their welcome?” If everyone is having fun, you can always stay longer than a couple of minutes, they won't mind.
Script #2: “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear, are you guys talking about XYZ? Because [reason].”
If what you overhear seems super serious, maybe don’t use this one. But if someone’s talking about travel plans for a vacation, rock on.
Why this works: A dash of permission, and a good segue into the current topic.
Create your own (mix and match):
Here are the minimum effective building blocks of a good script:
Skill Set #2: The Spokes Method
Does your mind ever go blank right when you had the perfect opportunity to say something?
Doesn’t that suck?
What if I told you there’s a way you can always have something to talk about and never run out things to say?
There is. It’s called the Spokes Method.
I explain more in this video:
Imagine a bicycle wheel.
In the center of the wheel is the hub.
The hub is the current conversational topic.
Example: superhero movies.
Radiating out from that hub are spokes. Think of the spokes as topics that loosely relate to the topic at hand.
For superhero movies we have quite a few to play with:
So we don’t just have that one topic to play with. We have six. Plenty of options.
Let’s kick it up a notch with a harder topic.
How to Join a Conversation Without Being AwkwardLet’s say you’re at a dinner party and someone mentions that they’re a mechanical engineer.
And let’s say you’re like me and you don’t know much about mechanical engineering.
What are your spokes?
Play along while reading this: come up with three possible spokes.
So, what did you come up with?
Here are mine:
Notice how our focus shifts from the topic to focus on the person.
Even if you’re not interested in mechanical engineering, you can still have a great conversation.
As you practice spokes, you might run into what I call the “perfection paradox.”
This is when you try to find the PERFECT thing to say, then self-edit because you feel like what you were going to say isn’t good enough.
Perfection is the enemy of action.
Don’t edit yourself into silence. It’s okay to open your mouth. Everything you say won’t be perfect…and that’s not only okay, it’s expected.
This next skill set will help you rebound from any awkward moment.
Skill Set #3: The 3 Fs: Flush, Fix, Forget
A while back, my wife and I went to our city’s huge public library downtown. It has columns, stone lions, and I assume ghosts.
We take the elevator up to the 5th floor, where they have study rooms, periodicals, and the quiet room. The quiet room exists so that people can work and study in peace.
We settle into the quiet room; we’re the only two people there.
Thinking that the room was soundproof, and also wanting to make my wife laugh, I devise a hilarious (to me) plan to play five seconds of gangster rap.
I press play. My wife quotes me as whispering “This is what I think of your quiet room.” (I do not remember this.)
A library employee opens the door and politely tells me that the quiet room is (shocker) meant for being quiet. She asks if we might rather use one of the nearby meeting rooms. My wife thinks this is a fantastic idea.
I sheepishly grab my bag and we walk to the meeting room.
Quiet Room: 1 Jeff: 0
What can we learn from this?
A. I clearly did not respect the nature of the quiet room.
B. I have a strong aversion to being a obedient rule follower.
C. I love gangster rap.
Looking back, I realized something interesting…
If something awkward happened to me years ago, I would have gone through a familiar cycle:
The most important takeaway is: Separate your actions from your identity.
How many times have you talked with a group and:
How many times have you convinced yourself that your awkward moment looked like this? And later you replayed the conversation in your head over and over.
Even worse…you started to meld that interaction into who you are, and associate it with your identity.
So what’s the fix?
I use the three Fs: Flush, Fix, and Forget.
Destroy the link between your actions and who you are. Delete all thoughts of “What do these actions say about who I am as a person?” When you flush that raw emotional connection, you have enough space to fix it. I use box breathing for this.
Is there anything about the situation that is within your control? Mentally adjust your approach for next time. (For me, that means not playing gangster rap in the quiet room.)
Move on. Close the book. Replaying an event will almost certainly lead to “because that’s who I am” thinking. Often the biggest key here is simply giving yourself the permission to move on.
As you use the three Fs, you’ll find that you can move from flush to forget almost instantly.
This could be the difference between:
A fantastic night out.
A night spent beating yourself up over that awkward thing you did.
We’ve covered mindsets.
We’ve covered skill sets.
Now, we’re going to cover something that I rarely share publicly.
This is the single most important step to learning any new skill.
This is how you take the theory that you’ve learned, and start applying it.
Systems: How You Can Improve Automatically
If-When-Then systems give you an in-the-moment blueprint for new behaviors.
I’m in a conversation at happy hour, if a new person joins, then I’ll be bold and introduce myself first.
When I walk into work, if there’s a group of people at the water cooler, then I’ll join their conversation.
Using the If-When-Then systems will help you turn something intimidating, like joining a conversation, into micro steps that you do automatically.
Now, it’s your turn.
Take five minutes and brainstorm two typical scenarios where you could use If-When-Then.
1. When I _______, if there’s someone _______, then I’ll _______.
2. When I _______, if there’s someone _______, then I’ll _______.
Systems are powerful because over time they become an operating system for your life.
They fade into the background.
They become you.
Then, because your brain isn't worried about how to look confident and relaxed, you become confident and relaxed.
Funny how that works.
In the comments: Share one of your If/When/Then scenarios!
I'll help you supercharge your people skills so that you can have a more fulfilling career,
business & social life.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve learned... (Read More)
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