4 Psychological Tricks to Instantly Appear Competent
By Rachel Gillett
Coming across as competent isn't just a matter of looking polished and dressing the part.
Turns out digging a little deeper and honing in on how you interact with others will yield far better results.
When done right, appearing competent is an essential way to get ahead at work, writes Columbia University professor Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book "No One Understands You And What To Do About It."
It can help you win the trust of bosses, colleagues, and employees alike, which is key to having valuable allies at work.
Here are Halvorson's four psychological strategies to conveying your effectiveness:1. Demonstrate your strong willpower.
Would you trust a colleague that has a serious self-control problem with an important project? Probably not.
A study out of VU University Amsterdam found that when you publicly engage in behaviors indicative of low willpower, your trustworthiness diminishes.
While someone's personal behaviors would ideally remain personal, they suggest to outsiders whether or not the individual is able to adhere to the standards of any healthy relationship, which could include the ones you have at work.
Whether you smoke, overeat, are perpetually late, or spend impulsively, to better convey competence to your colleagues, you either need to quit or at the very least keep it to yourself.
2. Beware of seeming cocky.
Whatever you do, don't confuse confidence with competence. While you can never have too much competence, there is a healthy — and unhealthy— dose of confidence to be aware of.
The dangers of overconfidence include being underprepared, setting unrealistic goals, biting off more than you can chew, and generally making bad choices, Halvorson explains. And all this leads to being the least popular guy in the office.
Instead, convey a realistic sense of confidence that shows modesty. You'll be less likely to threaten your colleagues' self esteem, and your mistakes won't elicit nearly as many cheers from your cubemates.
3. Use body-language to your advantage.
Any easy way to appear more competent is by simply making eye contact while speaking. Studies have shown that those who do so are consistently judged as more intelligent.
Halvorson also suggests speaking faster, gesturing and nodding, and sitting up straight, which have all been found to lead to greater perceptions of competence.
Another interesting tactic is adopting power poses made famous by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. By standing or sitting in an expansive way (legs apart, arms spread wide, leaning forward) you're not only conveying confidence to others, but you're also triggering immediate changes in your body chemistry that make you more powerful, which Halvorson explains goes hand-in-hand with competence.
"Adopting a high-power pose is a great way to subtly signal your competence — especially if you aren't the type to sing your own praises — while simultaneously providing a power boost to help you tackle your next challenge," Halvorson writes.
4. Emphasize what you can do, not what you have done.
We have an unconscious bias to be more impressed with the "next big thing" than the "big thing" that's already happened.
During a recent study by Harvard and Stanford researchers, participants evaluated two job candidates and determined their fit for a leadership position. Both candidates had equally impressive backgrounds, but one had two years of relevant job experience and high scores on a test of leadership achievement and the other had zero years of relevant job experience and high scores on a test of leadership potential.
The study participants believed the second candidate — who had no experience, but great leadership potential — would be better suited for the job, which is not surprising considering how our human brains work.
Our brains pay more attention to uncertain information, Halvorson explains, because they want to figure it out. This leads to longer and more in-depth processing of this information, and as long as the information available is favorable, the extra processing leaves us with a more positive view of someone's competence.
So even if you have an impressive track record for success, Halvorson suggests focusing your pitch, whatever it may be, on your future, not your past. "It's what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice," she writes.