Identify what makes you you and redefine the narrow, conventional perception of “confidence.”
You’ve heard that you need to play to your strengths to get ahead in life. But sometimes, this advice is easier said than done. It can be hard to identify how, say, your love of karaoke can help you in the board room.
Luckily for us, fashion entrepreneur and former consultant Lisa Sun has written a book to help. Sun’s new book, Gravitas: The 8 Strengths That Redefine Confidence will help you identify what makes you you and redefine the narrow, conventional perception of “confidence.” In this excerpt, she explains one of the eight strengths in detail — including practical advice on how to channel the superpower.
- You’ve been told that you’re the life of the party.
- You enjoy meeting new people.
- You don’t mind being seated next to a stranger at a dinner party—you were born to charm!
- You care whether or not people like you.
- You are great at telling stories; you love being asked to give a toast!
- You’ve been told that you can be overwhelming.
- You enjoy being the center of attention.
This expression of gravitas is public-facing, deriving much of its power (and impact) from an audience, whether literal or implied. If this is your superpower, then you are comfortable in the spotlight, whether performing at Madison Square Garden or selling an idea in a windowless conference room. It’s become more mainstream in the last decade, as this form of gravitas foregrounds whenever we post on social media. Entertaining and mood-boosting, this trait is classic extroversion and showmanship.
You engage eagerly and vibrantly, comfortable with attention and craving human contact. You live life in the moment with a fun-loving spirit, looking for excitement in everything and never running out of things to discuss. You are bold and social, deriving your energy from others and encouraging others to partake in shared activities. You give your time and energy generously and enthusiastically because you genuinely enjoy spending time with others. You can easily get caught up in the joy of the moment and want everyone else to feel that way too.
In even the most frustrating situations, you exhibit excellent people skills. Your strong sense of observation includes being able to read a room, befriend nearly anyone, bring people together, persuade others to join in on almost anything, or defuse tension by uplifting the mood. You can be relied upon to pump energy, spontaneity, or fun into any situation.
When You Are at Your Best
If you have this trait as your superpower, you are most confident in public-facing situations and are very persuasive. You can comfortably tell a story in front of an audience (two times more than the average), just as easily as you can sell someone on a plan or idea, start a business, and go to an event where you don’t know anyone (35 to 70 percent more than the average). You have an extensive circle of friends whom you can ask for help (you are among the most adept at raising money for a business or charity). You are also observant and attuned to others’ emotions, and you often can mollify the intensity of a situation. You have an ability to relate to others that is unparalleled.
This trait is most often deployed in public-facing situations. Hence, the highest percentage of people who have this superpower work full-time (more than two-thirds) and are 80 percent more likely to be at a senior level. They are twice as likely as the average to be a business owner and often can be found in more customer-facing or service-oriented professions where there is a sense of excitement, stimulation, and interaction with customers.
How to Steer Clear of Downsides
“It’s All About Me”
When this trait is at its max, there’s little room for anyone or anything else. Manifested at the wrong time, you risk talking past the sale or being perceived as narcissistic or manipulative. Conversation can be lopsided, with two-way dialogue or dissent being suffocated. You thrive on having an audience to validate you, making you feel needed and appreciated. You may, therefore, also struggle when encountering more introverted personalities who do not readily match your energy levels.
If you receive critical feedback, you can spiral downward with a series of negative thoughts, worried about what others think of you, or simply dismiss the feedback and the person giving it altogether. In our quantitative survey, those with this trait are the least likely to admit when they are wrong.
How to Course-Correct
It may help those with this quality to practice other forms of confidence, such as Giving (genuine interest in and care for others) and Self- Sustaining (which is a true challenge, as it is the polar opposite of Performing in that those with the Self-Sustaining superpower do not feel the need to impress). This will help with learning when their Performing quality should take center stage and when not. If you have this superpower, remember, it is not your job to always be the center of attention or to make everyone like you and it does not need to bother you when someone does not. Giving space and airtime to others will always be a challenge for those with Performing as a superpower, but it is essential so as not to be labeled overwhelming. To balance this potentially overwhelming force of personality, channel your natural gifts of observation into reading the room and being mindful of others. Storytelling is powerful, but so is active listening, asking questions, and being genuinely interested in others’ stories. It can be as simple as asking, “What’s the latest in your life?” or when listening to a story or feedback, responding with, “Say more about that. I want to know more.”
You live in the moment and leap at opportunities, which means any effort that requires repetitive action is torturous. In fact, you score the lowest on feeling capable of getting projects done, and you can be labeled as being unfocused or easily distracted by other people or more enjoyable, higher-energy situations. Worse, tasks that are devoid of human contact and excitement are draining, as there is no audience for whom to perform.
How to Course-Correct
Because Performing is my top form of confidence, I identify with this downside and have found two ways to address it. First, I look for ways to find day-to-day joy in mundane tasks by thinking about the broader goals and creating fun and rewards so tasks feel less repetitive along the way. Second, I surround myself with people who have Achieving, Knowing, and Giving as their top qualities because their natural talent is to get things done reliably. It helps that my teammates provide the human interaction I crave, but in a way that does not distract.
What You Can Do to Channel This Superpower
Performing can serve you well, especially in meeting new people, building camaraderie with a team, or speaking in front of an audience. Fostering a warm, inviting, and open presence through nonverbal cues and verbal engagement is the hallmark of this quality.
This is the go-to exercise for stage fright, whether it occurs while giving a wedding toast or making a formal presentation in front of others. If Performing is a quality not natural to you, the best thing to do is to trust your own physiology. Breathing techniques have long been proven to help regulate the vagus nerve and thus calm us down. I have a ritual that I follow before I step onto any stage. I listen to a favorite song to set the mood and do a “7-5-7” meditation a few times: I close my eyes, inhale through my nose for seven seconds, hold my breath for five seconds, and exhale slowly through my mouth for seven seconds. This lowers my heart rate, oxygenates my brain, and centers me so I can do what I do best.
When it comes to a speech or toast, this is where practice and storytelling preparation come into play. Researchers John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti discovered that anyone can be trained in what they call charismatic leadership tactics (CLTs).6 They found that when mapping out a speech or presentation, using nine verbal CLTs (such as metaphors, personal stories, and passion) and three nonverbal CLTs (voice, facial expressions, and body cues) could demonstrably increase “‘good’ presentation skills—speech structure, clear pronunciation, use of easy-to-understand language, tempo of speech, and speaker comfort.” We’ll explore this in greater depth in Chapter 6, as we found in our own quantitative research that telling a story in front of an audience is one of the areas in which women are the least comfortable, so all of us need a bit of Performing if we want to be better at it.
Energize and Enthuse
Remembering names, asking questions, and engaging the other person demonstrate an enthusiasm for the present moment and a desire for personal interaction. If people feel your genuine interest—whether it’s expressed in an animated voice, facial expressions, or gestures—they become more receptive to you and your message. Even smiling can be a powerful tool in the Performing arsenal when it is done with authenticity and to solidify connection. It’s not about smiling all the time, or hiding your true thoughts by pasting a smile on your face. In fact, leadership expert Janine Driver shares that when meeting someone new, the most powerful people smile after they shake that person’s hand and hear their name, not before. What we know about smiling is that seeing another person smile triggers an automatic muscular response that produces a smile in return, lifting the mood and creating a waterfall of positive feelings. Look for times when you sincerely feel this energy on the inside, then make sure to share it on the outside.