Pay attention, please. This is the most important article you'll ever read.

We all know people who seem almost superhumanly sure of themselves–whose extreme confidence and strategic charisma enable them to accomplish really big goals.

Think of rich and powerful examples–President Bill Clinton, or the late Steve Jobs might come to mind, or even the latest example everyone is talking about–Donald Trump–and their "reality distortion fields."

You might know some people like this in your own life, too. You don't have to agree with the wisdom of these people's goals to recognize their skills. And you don't have to believe that "confident" is actually necessarily a compliment.

Still, like comic book superpowers, extreme confidence can be used for good as well as evil. Here are some of the key habits that the world's most confident (and usually successful) people have learned. As always, I welcome you to contact me and tell me what you think.

1. They assert their positions clearly and forcefully.

Confident people simply act confidently, making strong, declarative assertions and defending them vigorously. At early stages, it's potentially a sort of fake-it-until-you-make-it phenomenon–ultimately, it becomes second nature.

Example #1: Jobs is now regarded as a pure genius, but he achieved his goals with "a barbed tongue." Example #2 (milder): My starting this post by insisting it's "the most important article you'll ever read."

2. They learn to believe what they're selling.

Here's a tough truth: on the narrow question of whether a person can project super-confidence, whether they actually believe what they're saying matters only insofar as their belief makes it more likely that you will believe. I'm not saying this is a good thing–only that it's part of the key.

3. They own the language.

Jobs gave one of the most masterful speeches of all time at Stanford in 2005. Clinton was one of the most literate politicians in American history. These were leaders who understood the power of language.

Trump does, too. For one striking example, take his insistence that others call him "Mr. Trump" (which just about everyone–including reporters–seems willing to oblige) while he refers to the other candidates in the race (including current and former governors and senators) by their first names.

4. They keep repeating themselves.

Supremely confident people never waver. They just keep asserting the same points. They know that some people will never believe–but others will, and that the more consistent their message, the more their supporters' numbers will grow.

Consider the degree to which Trump keeps talking about how much money he's made–even though analyses have suggested that if he'd just taken the share of his father's $200 million real estate empire that he inherited in and invested it passively in 1974, he might actually have grown wealthier than he is now.

5. They have some level of substance.

Knowing what the heck you're talking about is sadly fifth-best on this list, behind projecting confidence, believing in what you assert, and having strong rhetorical skills. In fact, I feel some guilt even for writing this, perhaps like the ancients who debated whether it was ethical to teach the art of argument to people whose ideas might not have merit. Regardless, that's the point of this whole exercise: those who actually know best are often crowded out by those who project confidence.

6. They push back hard.

Here's a timely example: The other day, NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an article in The Washington Post comparing Trump unfavorably to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump's response apparently was to scrawl a note on a copy of Abdul-Jabbar's article telling him that people "couldn't stand you."
Trump's letter to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

(Quick aside: Who doesn't like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I say this as a guy who grew up rooting for the Boston Celtics in the 1980s! )

7. They understand nonverbal communication.

Most communication is nonverbal. Entrepreneur and student of psychology Michael Ellsberg wrote a really interesting study of how Clinton managed to communicate nonverbally (on Tim Ferris's blog), starting with his mastery of the simple but often neglected art of maintaining eye contact.

(Check out this four-minute video of Clinton and George H.W. Bush in a 1992 presidential debate, which Ellsberg discusses in very interesting detail, to see just how masterful Clinton was at this.)

8. They apologize–or they minimize–and quickly move on.

President Clinton has practically made a profession out of apologizing–to Mexico for the war on drugs, to the nation for mass incarceration–and after months of denials, for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Of course there are exceptions to this point–it's almost impossible to find anything in his entire life for which Trump has ever apologized.

Regardless, the point is to change the subject, and quickly create new headlines to take advantage of people's short attention spans.

9. They move fast.

Speaking of short attention spans–by the time you've sat down and analyzed what they've said, they're onto another point. Highly confident people seem to understand that he who strikes first, strikes hardest–and has the greatest shot at success.

Published on: Sep 3, 2015
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