One theme I picked up on at this week’s London Tableau Conference was confidence.

We are all, in a way, confidence artists. We spend our lives influencing other people that we are good at what we or our businesses are doing, or what needs to be done. Parents influence their children frequently (and often too the other way round!!), we must appear confident in job interviews, and in political or legal debates (such as the EU referendum) we try to convince each other that our perspective is the most beneficial.

The most effective manner of communicating these “cons” is through a story, not just communicating fact. We know very well we can show KPIs to managers, exhibit our skills on a CV, or show a first aid certificate, but when it comes to actually convincing others, we need some story to support that. People find it much harder to refute facts in a story than they do those reported separately.

The thing is, we cannot avoid being conned. We cannot even avoid people who take advantage of this maliciously (eg, confidence tricksters). We are going to get tricked, and there is very little we can do to prevent it. We could investigate each of the facts in a story ourselves, but this is time consuming. Our propensity to verify them will depend on the manner in which we learned these facts, and what we need to do with the facts. Psychology generally suggests that our only practical course of action is to accept that we have been conned, knowingly or otherwise. When we try to hide our shame at being tricked, we are liable to get deeper into the con and end up significantly worse off.

I’ve spent most of this week surrounded by super-confident people who exude the characteristic of a con artist. However, I know, that like me, they have channelled their confidence into doing good, for themselves or for their business.

As an introvert I have found a very peculiar crossover: my sheer [egoistic] panic at participating in social situations, and the facade of an extrovert catching up with old friends and selling my skills and experiences to new ones. Listening to Maria Konnikova talk about the psychology of it struck a chord. I have, however, come to realise that cognitive science still very much intrigues me.

So in summary:
1. You will con people. Make your stories convincing through a story, don’t just throw facts around. Definitely don’t lie.
2. Everyone cons you. Work out if you need to accept the con, and if you need to validate the facts behind the story. If you do find you’ve been conned, accept it, and move on.

Leave a Reply