How do you feel when you walk into a meeting as a facilitator?

If you’re like a good 90% of designers, the idea makes you a least a little uncomfortable. So how do you react? Do you try to convince the client that you know the answer to every problem they’ve ever had, or do you admit up front that you don’t know everything?

As counterintuitive as it might seem, it’s the second option that truly leads to confidence. Here’s why.

Understanding the Context

So you walk into a room to give a presentation to a client. You feel like there’s a gigantic spotlight on you. You feel judged. You feel like the only way to make it through the meeting is to convince the client that you know everything.

But it’s not so different from the client’s perspective. In most cases they’re just as nervous as you are. And in most cases they’re just as eager to make a good impression. If you walk in trying to convince them that you know everything, you’ll make the client even more nervous. Why? Because they don’t want to be wrong either.

And let’s take that thought one step further. Let’s say you walk in wanting to prove to the client that you have an answer for their every question. What happens when you inevitably slip up? If you emphatically say something that your client knows is wrong, you’ve immediately lost all credibility.

The Confidence to Say “I Don’t Know”

Most of us have that little voice inside of us that says it’s not okay not to know something. If you let that voice win, one of two things happens: you never have the confidence to get yourself off the ground, or you end up overcompensating and sounding arrogant.

Ego can easily get in the way and keep you from admitting that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Your ego says you have to be smart, wealthy, and all-knowing. And if you’re not all of those things (aka: just like everyone else), it will try to convince you that you don’t belong. You end up feeling like an imposter in your career, and maybe in your life, just waiting for someone to find you out. If you let those feelings go unchecked, you may end up needing to put other people down to feel better about yourself.

The remedy to ego, arrogance, and a lack of confidence is openly and freely admitting that, while you do have expertise in what you do, you don’t know everything.

Buying into the idea that you have to know everything may feel like confidence on the surface, but it’s actually just the opposite. Confidence is freely admitting that there’s no way to be an expert in everything. Openly admitting this to clients is refreshing and diffuses nervousness and tension for both parties. I’ll talk a little more about what this looks like in my next blog, but you can feel the atmosphere change in a room when you say “I don’t know as much about your business as you do, so I want to learn with you.”

If you want to approach your next interaction with confidence, there’s no greater tool than humility. Be honest with others (and, more importantly, with yourself) about what you do and do not know. When you let go of the idea that you need to know everything, you open yourself up to interactions that are more authentic, more satisfying, and much more productive.

Author Chris Do

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