Thursday, March 7, 2013

Healthy Self Confidence or Hubris?

Your mind has to be in the right place in order to improve

( 1st in a series of 6)
It was a big mistake on my part. 
I said, “That was a fine presentation you just gave.”
“Thank you.”
“You were very entertaining and interesting. I talked to other attendees and they too really liked your talk,”
I continued,  “I have one question, you covered a lot of ground in 45 minutes, what would you say are the three most important points out of all the points you made?”

At a large industry conference, I actually said this to a well-known and well regarded speaker.  Even though his face crumpled with a look of annoyance, he responded,
“All my points are important.”
Without monitoring his nonverbal expressions, I pressed on,
“Tell me your three most important points.”
His face became red, and he grabbed a paper with notes, and rattled off a few things in no particular order of importance.  Then he slammed the paper down and exclaimed,
“Are you satisfied?”  His last word started with an A_ _ and ended with _ ole.
I apologized and walked away. 
I felt bad; I had just criticized a speaker way above my pay grade.  He did not ask for my opinion and did not want my opinion.  I thought I knew better than to make such a mistake.

Public Speaking is an Art
He is an excellent entertainer and speaker with an implied depth of knowledge in his field.  He makes the audience feel good and glad they attended. 
A few remembered some funny lines, but nothing of substance.  Actually, I don’t recall anything of substance.  He may have but, if so, it was buried in his stories—often times the speaker must “connect the dots” when using stories to make a point. This is a shame because he thinks he is helping people with his vast knowledge in their businesses when in reality he is simply entertaining
Twenty to thirty people lined up after the presentation to tell him how much they enjoyed his talk.
This feedback might be the root of his over confidence.
He didn’t notice the 1,970+ that didn’t say anything—several even walking out early.
The purpose of the Conference was to help small business owners grow their business. Therefore, I suggest he could be more effective giving more consideration to the science of public speaking.

Public Speaking is a Science
As effective speakers, we must stick to one main idea and support it with a maximum of three main points—a good guideline that is flexible depending on situation.  Also, we must select the main idea based on the needs of the audience. This is the science of public speaking.
I randomly interviewed over 20 people attending (about 2,000 people were in the audience) and not one could recall a point or will make any change in their life or business after listening to his entertaining talk even though all 20 thought he was a good speaker. 
On one level, there is nothing wrong with entertaining; however, he could be so much more effective and a difference maker; but, he never will with his current attitude.  He is far from his potential; yet, he thinks he has arrived. 
This is hubris.
Of course who showed the hubris—me or him?  I think it was clearly both.  I was way out of line offering criticism to someone who didn’t ask, and clearly, he has a self-serving bias to his speaking ability.
As good as any speaker is, she can be even better.  Dropping all pretenses, stereotypes, and self-serving biases, where are you?  If you think you are a master of public speaking and don’t need to learn anymore, you won’t.  If you are fabulous, but think you can still do better, you will—no matter your ability and skill level.

Let’s define our terms
“Hubris is exaggerated pride or self-confidence” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. goes further: “The characteristic of excessive confidence or arrogance, which leads a person to believe that he or she may do no wrong. The overwhelming pride caused by hubris is often considered a flaw in character. While these hubris feelings are often justified, they often cause irrational and harmful behavior.”
“Hubris is an excess of confidence: a boxer who shouts "I'm the greatest!" even though he's about to get pummeled,” according to  They go on to say “…it just refers to over-the-top self-confidence. If you call yourself the best in something, you better have the goods to back it up, since too much hubris can lead to embarrassment and humiliation.”
“Self-serving bias is our tendency to take credit for success (self-enhancing bias) and deny any responsibility for failure (self-protective bias). This helps to protect our ego. It also enables us to confirm that we are meeting our goals,” according to  For example, if we get good feedback from a talk, we take credit for it, if someone criticizes our talk we become defensive and dismiss the criticism as coming from a dumbass.
According to Communication Research and Psychology Today, a study was done to research a self-serving bias with a large random sampling of businessmen. Asked how they rate themselves in their abilities to get along with others, 60% rated themselves in the top 25% and an astounding 25% rated themselves in the top 1% of the USA population defying mathematical laws.  In leadership ability, 70% rated themselves in the top 25% of the population.
“Self-confidence is an attitude which allows individuals to have positive yet realistic views of themselves and their situations,” according to the Counseling Center’ website at the University of Illinois.

How does this affect you and me?
Hubris and a self-serving bias throw us out of balance.  We need self-confidence to improve; but, once we cross the line into exaggerated self-confidence we tend to focus on Aesop’s Golden Eggs (what is produced—such as our bias towards our ability to give great talks) at the expense of the Golden Goose (the capacity to produce—which in this case is our ability to speak in public.  We stop improving).  The late Stephen Covey argues we must balance both.
In order to balance, we must get our minds right and be open to seek out and embrace professional improvement in our public speaking skill.  It’s not only for our sake; but, also for the sake of the audience sitting in those uncomfortable chairs eagerly anticipating substantive and concrete information.
Public Speaking is a complex process that requires the following ingredients:  Preparation, knowledge, self-confidence, humility, and empathy combined in the right amounts that are different depending on the situation and how you relate to the audience.  That’s why public speaking is a balance of art and science. 
It is the absence of hubris and a self-serving bias.
Rod Mattson
Covey S. (1990) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People p.54 Simon & Schuster New York.
Myers D. (1980)“The Inflated Self” Psychology Today. May. pp. 14-16.
Sypher B. and Sypher H.(1997) “Seeing Ourselves as Other’s See Us” Communication Research  
23 pp. 477-506.
Copyright March 2013 Mattson Communication Training
Next article:
Motivation:  Get Others to Do What You Want Them to Do Because They Want to Do It.
The psychology of motivating, persuading, and informing.

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