How to Prove Your Competence and Win People Over

Jack Nasher (Author)

Publication date: 11/13/2018

Competence does not speak for itself! You can't simply display it; you have to draw people's attention to it. World-renowned negotiation and deception detection expert, business professor, and mentalist Jack Nasher offers effective, proven techniques to convince others that we are talented, trustworthy, and yes, even brilliant.

Nasher offers the example of Joshua Bell, possibly the world's most famous violinist. In January 2007, at rush hour, he stepped into a Washington, DC, subway station, dressed like any street busker, and began to play a $4,000,000 Stradivarius. It was part of an experiment staged by a journalist of the
Washington Post, who expected Bell's skill alone to attract an immense, awed crowd. But Bell was generally ignored, and when he stopped, nobody applauded. He made $34.17.

The good news is that you don't have to accept obscurity: you can positively affect others' perception of your talent. Whether you're looking for work, giving an important presentation, seeking clients or customers for your business, or vying for a promotion, Nasher explains how to use techniques such as expectation management, verbal and nonverbal communication, the Halo Effect, competence framing, and the power of nonconformity to gain control of how others perceive you.

Competence is the most highly valued professional trait. But it's not enough to
be competent, you have to convey your competence. With Nasher's help you can showcase your expertise, receive the recognition you deserve, and achieve lasting success.

Read more and meet author below

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Competence does not speak for itself! You can't simply display it; you have to draw people's attention to it. World-renowned negotiation and deception detection expert, business professor, and mentalist Jack Nasher offers effective, proven techniques to convince others that we are talented, trustworthy, and yes, even brilliant.

Nasher offers the example of Joshua Bell, possibly the world's most famous violinist. In January 2007, at rush hour, he stepped into a Washington, DC, subway station, dressed like any street busker, and began to play a $4,000,000 Stradivarius. It was part of an experiment staged by a journalist of the
Washington Post, who expected Bell's skill alone to attract an immense, awed crowd. But Bell was generally ignored, and when he stopped, nobody applauded. He made $34.17.

The good news is that you don't have to accept obscurity: you can positively affect others' perception of your talent. Whether you're looking for work, giving an important presentation, seeking clients or customers for your business, or vying for a promotion, Nasher explains how to use techniques such as expectation management, verbal and nonverbal communication, the Halo Effect, competence framing, and the power of nonconformity to gain control of how others perceive you.

Competence is the most highly valued professional trait. But it's not enough to
be competent, you have to convey your competence. With Nasher's help you can showcase your expertise, receive the recognition you deserve, and achieve lasting success.

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Jack Nasher

Jack Nasher is the founder of the NASHER Negotiation Institute and has been named the leading negotiation expert and the best known expert on deception detection by Germany s major news sources. Oxford-educated and formerly with the German Mission to the UN in New York City, Jack Nasher was the youngest appointee to full professorship at the esteemed Munich Business School in 2010 at the age of 31. He also performs as a mentalist at the world-renownd Magic Castle in Hollywood. He is a full member of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, and a principle practitioner with the Association of Business Psychologists.

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Table of Contents

The Actual Effect of Success and Failure
The Assessment Problem
A Question of Technique
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Setting high expectations and confirming them
How to take away the others' fear
Effects of modesty vs. bragging
Priming yourself

How to optimally present good news
How to optimally present bad news
Using the Primacy Effect

Difficulty level, luck, effort: the perceived factors responsible for a result
Manipulating their perception
No effort – being a natural (apparently)

The surprising effects of elocution, volume and speed
The effect of accents and dialects
“Power Talking” vs. “Powerless Speech patterns”

The ideal distance
Eye contact and (no) smiles
The “competent” stance / sitting position
The Dr. Fox Effect

How to use a generalized Halo Effect
The effect of likeability
3 Scientific tools to ingratiate yourself
The effect of physical attractiveness
The face, the body and what really matters

The effect of perceived status
The “Habitus” and universal competence
How to display a high level of education
Using clothing and accessories
The effect of being different (“nonconformity”)
BIRCing – basking in reflected competence

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Convinced!: How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over


If a man today were to take one day away from his current engagement and spend that one day learning the professional approach he would be doing himself and the firm a much greater service than he would be to produce seventy-five, a hundred, or a hundred and fifty dollars a day of income for McKinsey & Company.


The Experiment

What do you think would happen if one of the world’s great violin virtuosos performed for over 1,000 people in a metro station, incognito, during rush hour?

This is the exact question Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten posed to Leonard Slatkin, director of the National Symphony Orchestra, in an interview in 2007.1

Slatkin replied, “Let’s assume that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician. . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”

“So, a crowd would gather?” Weingarten asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“And how much will he make?”

“About $150.”

“Thanks, Maestro. As it happens,” continued Weingarten, “this is not hypothetical. It really happened.”

“How’d I do?” Slatkin asked curiously.

“We’ll tell you in a minute,” said the journalist.

“Well, who was the musician?”

“Joshua Bell.”


Yes, the experiment was conducted with none other than American violinist Joshua Bell, who in the course of his fabulous career has been referred to as a “boy wonder,” “genius,” and even “God”—all by the time he was only in his late 30s. At the age of 4, Bell stretched rubber bands across a drawer to pluck out tunes. At 17, he performed as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and went on to play with the most prestigious orchestras in the world. He has received countless prizes, such as the Mercury, the Gramophone and Echo Klassik, a Grammy, and an Oscar—well, almost: Bell performed the solo part on the soundtrack to the film The Red Violin, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Up until that day in January 2007, though, Joshua Bell had never been a busker.

So, early that cold morning, one of the most celebrated violinists of his generation walks down the steps of L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, DC. He puts down the violin case and takes out his fiddle, a Stradivarius, to be exact, made by the legendary violin maker in 1713—his “golden era”—and worth about $4 million. Bell lifts the bow, not just any bow, of course, but one from the workshop of bow master François Tourte from the late 18th century. There he stands, this lanky, boyish man, disguised in a baseball cap. Only three days earlier he had filled the Boston Symphony Hall to the last seat with ticket prices starting at $100.

He commences with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. II, the epitome of violin pieces, about which the composer Johannes Brahms wrote, “If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”2

So, a world-renowned violinist is now on his Stradivarius playing an epochal piece of music. What happens next?

Ah, one more thing: The publishers of the Washington Post—who were staging the event—were very worried about security issues. They feared a tumultuous crowd’s reaction and even considered alerting the National Guard so they would be ready to get the situation under control if necessary. They pictured the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and so on, and yet, the decision was made to go through with this risky experiment.

So Bell begins to play . . . It takes three minutes and 63 passersby before a middle-aged man slows down his walk and seems to notice that someone is making music—but he keeps on walking. Then a woman throws a dollar into the violin case and dashes on. Over the next 43 minutes, 7 people will stand there for a few moments, while 27 others will throw money into the trunk without pausing. No one will applaud.

There is a constant line of people just a few yards away at a lottery stand, but no one even turns in the direction of the music. The lady at the shoe polish stand, an animated Brazilian woman who is also only a few feet away, curses at the noise, but she doesn’t call the cops as she usually does on other street performers. Bell finishes playing, packs up, and leaves the station with hardly anyone noticing.

How much did he make? In total, 32 dollars and 17 cents. Not bad for a street musician. However, 20 of those dollars came from the most generous listener: Stacy Furukawa, who recognized Bell and threw the bill in with an utterly perplexed expression.

Bell enjoyed the experience, but there was one moment when he felt particularly embarrassed: the seconds immediately after the conclusion of a set—no applause, nothing. Bell just stood there sheepishly for a while and eventually continued.

“It was a strange feeling,” he later recalled, “that people were actually, ah . . . ignoring me. At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off.”

So one of the best violinists in the world plays one of the greatest masterpieces of all time on a Stradivarius and almost nothing happens. The organizers had been confident that people would stop and recognize his true greatness because genius speaks for itself.

They were wrong.

Brilliance does not speak for itself: you can, in fact, be the best in the world and no one will notice. Some may even think you are a failure. You need to show your skills.

That’s what this book is about.

Research has shown again and again how difficult it is for us to accurately assess others’ competence and intelligence in general.3 Meanwhile, it seems almost impossible to objectively judge, and properly assess, the competence of one’s performance, whether a piece of music or a daily task at work.4

But don’t results speak for themselves? For example, lawyers can win or lose a case. Even in defeat, though, they may still be considered competent at their jobs. The expertise of a lawyer is not really measured by the percentage of cases she’s won, just like the competence of a doctor is not measured by the degree of health of his patients. If an ill patient visits a doctor and subsequently gets better, the doctor may have cured her or it may have just been the result of the natural course of the disease. If the doctor’s treatment failed, however, it may be that a cure was utterly impossible anyhow. Hence, the doctor could appear incompetent despite her success and competent even though she failed.

The same situation is true with a sales representative: sales may rise, but they could have risen without his effort due to the superior quality of the product or marketing efforts that finally bore fruit. If sales go down, it could have been the result of increasing competition. Just like in politics, where a leader can be perceived as incompetent, despite a strong economy and low unemployment figures, or as competent, even if the economy is on a downswing and unemployment is increasing.

Let me illustrate this phenomenon with an astounding example from the corporate context: In 1983, the then leading communications firm AT&T hired the management consultancy McKinsey & Company to assess the future of the cellular telephone market. As Thomas Sugrue, head of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, remembers, “McKinsey & Co. confidently told AT&T that by the year 2000, no more than 1 million Americans would subscribe to cellular services—max.”5 This prediction was not—to put it mildly—accurate.

By the year 2000, over 80 million Americans were using wireless phones, making the prediction off by more than 8,000 percent. This colossal underestimation of the cellular phone market led to a series of ill-advised decisions that cost AT&T billions of dollars, contributing to the former giant’s demise.6 So bad was the company’s service that I have heard MCs in Hollywood’s Magic Castle nightclub tell their audiences before my show to switch off their cell phones, unless they use AT&T, in which case they need not worry about it since they won’t have reception anyway—followed by agreeing chuckles. In 2005, the venerable American Telephone & Telegraph Company, once one of the most admired companies in the world, was acquired by Southwestern Bell—one of its spin-offs.

How did McKinsey & Co. do in the year 2000, when this multi-billion-dollar mistake became obvious? Did they lose most of their clients? Was the company on the verge of bankruptcy, or did they at least take a shameful vow of silence? Not quite. It was a terrific year for the firm, and its reputation did not suffer a bit.

As illustrated, success or failure has surprisingly little influence on the perception of competence. One can appear to be competent despite vast failure and seem incompetent in the midst of immense success.

“Isn’t that a little exaggerated?” you may ask. Not at all—it’s an understatement! Even in the absence of any actual competence, an impression of competence can remain intact. Until the 20th century, for example, it was usually healthier to not go to the doctor at all, as the universal treatment, bloodletting, wasn’t only useless but even resulted in infections quite frequently. Yet, at that time, and even in the earliest societies, which had virtually no medical know-how whatsoever, doctors and medicine men were highly respected.

The impression of competence can even last when we should really know better. In 2005, the US psychologist Philip Tetlock asked hundreds of experts from the fields of business, politics, and the military to predict the events of the next five years in their respective disciplines.7 The disillusioning result: Expertise did not help at all in making valid assumptions. On the contrary, an especially good reputation even had a negative impact on the prediction.

In the midst of the financial crisis, in 2009, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, I was living in Manhattan.* Whenever you turned on the TV, there was some expert explaining why the crisis was unavoidable: you would see a stern face and hear a precise explanation of why this or that had to happen—alas, only after it happened. A year before, those same experts didn’t say a word about these inevitable occurrences.

So common sense is not working here. Poor work does not necessarily lead to a corresponding negative perception. Unfortunately, this idea also applies to good work—it doesn’t necessarily lead to a positive perception.

After Joshua Bell’s concert in the metro station, some passersby were interviewed. “Yes, I saw the violinist,” said a lawyer on her way to work. And her sobering conclusion: “But nothing about him struck me as much of anything.”

The Assessment Problem

Is the lawyer who saw Bell playing that morning just ignorant, blind to obvious skill? How about you? Is your assessment of someone’s talents or abilities accurate? For example, you may think you have a competent dentist, perhaps one you have even recommended to your friends. But how can you make a judgment if you know nothing about dentistry? Chances are you don’t have a clue. Instead, you rely on criteria such as the clinic’s cleanliness or the dentist’s friendliness, which, as you must admit, have little to do with actual expertise.8 Even one-on-one conversations do not help us to properly assess others’ abilities.9

After receiving my law degree, I worked as a legal trainee at the US law firm Skadden. “The Firm,” as it is reverently called, specializes in mergers and acquisitions and, according to Forbes magazine, is the “most powerful firm on Wall Street.” Not feeling much of the firm’s might, there I sat 12 hours a day in front of my computer, neatly dressed in a suit and tie—though a tracksuit would have been more adequate, as I never met with clients; I wrote Share-Purchase Agreements (SPAs), sale contracts for corporate investments. My colleagues in the neighboring offices to my left and right did the same. We all had the same training and similar grades and in fact looked almost identical. Yet it would have typically taken me 7 to 10 years to be made a partner, the highest accolade (and most lucrative*) in the firm.10 That’s how long the ladies and gentlemen in the partner offices would have needed to ponder whether I would be worthy to be considered an equal.

These colleagues—experts in their field—needed almost a decade to assess their peers’ competence. If it takes the best people at a top firm such an amount of time, then how can a layman accurately judge the competence of an expert lawyer quickly and appropriately? And yet, clients set up so-called beauty contests to assess their prospective legal counsel’s expertise after a few meetings—a naive undertaking, but what choice do they have?

Every day we must decide to whom we will entrust certain tasks, from our hairdressers to our accountants. We constantly and mutually judge others’ respective capabilities, although we usually have no idea on what to base those judgments. Despite all this, “competence” continues to be regarded as the decisive factor.

In the context of this book, “competence” or “expertise,” which I use interchangeably, more or less means a combination of knowledge and skills that are needed for the tasks one faces.11 A strict demarcation is not very effective because concepts such as “intelligence” and “competence” are so closely correlated with each other that research habitually combines them into one single factor.12 Therefore, a rough idea is sufficient and gives us time to answer the really important question: Which factors matter in judging others’ expertise and which don’t?

“Competence” is indeed the most important trait in the professional context, on par with “credibility” and before “likability.”13 Research and common sense agree: competence is the basis for evaluating performance and making decisions regarding hiring, promotions, the entrusting of tasks, and, of course, compensation.14

The dilemma: while people regard expertise as the most important quality in any profession, great difficulty lies in properly assessing it. This difficulty is amplified by the exponential growth of knowledge. And as the world’s complexity increases, an ever-greater need arises to rely on people who seem to know what they’re doing.

What gives us a sense of security in this complex world, however, is not actual competence, because it is virtually impossible to rate, but perceived competence. If we distinguish between perceived and actual competence, it becomes clear why there are incompetent people who are highly regarded, while some highly competent people are regularly underrated or assumed to be incompetent. Which leads to the key point: it is not so much the actual but the perceived competence that determines an individual’s success.

Just World Principle

How do you feel about this idea, that perceived competence is essentially rewarded over actual competence? Chances are, it makes you feel uncomfortable. Deeply rooted in all of us is a faith that has accompanied us since our childhood, a result of the ancient German fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm, Disney movies, and bedtime stories: Everyone gets what they deserve. The villain gets punished (in German fairy tales, habitually tortured to death) and the heroes get married (to a child, at least, this qualifies as a happy ending).

On that January morning in DC, the one woman who recognized Joshua Bell in the metro station, Stacy Furukawa, just happened to pass by. She stopped in front of Bell and could not believe that she was surrounded by such ignorance: “It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington. Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! . . . I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”

No wonder Furukawa could identify the virtuoso: She had attended one of his concerts just a few weeks earlier. Yet she clung to the belief that she would have recognized Bell without this favorable circumstance because, she was sure, true greatness speaks for itself—even if only to her out of the over 1,000 people who passed Bell by that day.

Social psychologist Alan Lerner coined this somewhat naive worldview the “Just World Principle.”15 While growing up, it helps us to internalize ethical values, but over time we gradually realize that this charming faith has little to do with reality. Often it is the villain who gets the princess and the good guy who is left empty-handed.

We observe how real life works again and again but still can hardly shake off this childhood ideal. Though this belief was valuable for growing up, it is a hindrance for our later advancement. The just world principle is no more than a delusion that helps us to endure the world’s injustice. Some of us who are spiritual or religious may shift our trust to a judgment day, hoping everyone will get what they deserve when the time comes. The rest of us accept the circumstances and make the best of here and now.

Negotiation expert Chester Karass coined a phrase with which I begin my negotiation seminars: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” This statement could also apply to the display of competence—you don’t get what you deserve based on your actual competence, but on how you display your competence. Many expect that our bosses or managers at work, who only see us every now and then, instinctively sense how capable we are without us needing to demonstrate our abilities. Nonsense.

Is there something inside you that still rebels against accepting this sheer injustice? Well, you could emblazon slogans on a piece of cardboard and start a demonstration on Main Street, or you could write a postcard to Santa Claus if you are old fashioned—but you won’t change the facts. It’s better to be prudent and accept the circumstances at hand and even use them to your advantage. As John F. Kennedy supposedly once said, “The world is not fair, but not necessarily to your disadvantage.”

True Competence?

This book is not meant to be a manual, as I do not intend to tell you what to do. As is the case with all my books and training courses, it is not my goal to make you do anything. Instead, I want to educate you—it is your choice how you’d like to use this knowledge. In this book, I will show you the most effective techniques to convince others of your worth by demonstrating competence, but it is up to you to decide if and how.

However, I am passionate about you, the individual. I feel sorry for modern men and women living in our corporate world. After having spent half your life trying to acquire the formal qualifications to succeed—high school, college, executive trainings—you should have the necessary skills. But despite these years of hard work, you may have come to realize that, contrary to what was promised, your tediously gained abilities are no guarantee of professional success—hard work just isn’t enough. In fact, some twerp outpaces you again and again. No one prepared you to sell your skills!

If you are an executive, you may face a dilemma known as the “Peter Principle.” Named after American educator Laurence J. Peter, this principle describes the tendency for people to rise up the career ladder until reaching a position of incompetence—and that’s where they stay.16 Many executives are in a management position not because they are excellent managers but because they were good in their previous jobs as salespeople, engineers, or HR reps. Now, however, these managers are not doing that well, which is why they don’t get promoted. So executives tend to spend the most time on the job they are least qualified for. The implications of this system error for the actual leadership abilities of many executives can only be imagined.

Furthermore, you might think that you don’t deserve any appreciation anyway. Deep inside, you probably feel that you know nothing, that you really are incompetent. If this is the case, you are in good company: successful people often feel that their success was only achieved illegitimately, that it was only due to a string of fortunate circumstances. This is known as the “Impostor Phenomenon.”17 Nearly 70 percent of successful people describe themselves as con artists. Even the great physicist Albert Einstein considered himself to be an “involuntary swindler” shortly before his death.18

This phenomenon increases as we now compare ourselves not only with those around us but with the entire world. As the US researchers Randolph M. Nesse and George C. Williams put it, “In the ancestral environment you would have had a good chance at being the best at something. Even if you were not the best, your group would likely value your skills. Now we all compete with those who are the best in the world. Watching these successful people on television arouses envy. Envy probably was useful to motivate our ancestors to strive for what others could obtain. Now few of us can achieve the goals envy sets for us, and none of us can attain the fantasy lives we see on television.”19 Our feelings of incompetence increases with modern tools of communications, such as social media, and can even lead to clinical depression.

And indeed, only a fool thinks he knows it all. The feeling of inadequacy is in fact a sign of prudence, along the lines of Socrates, who knew that he knew nothing. Indeed, the speed at which knowledge multiplies increases exponentially. The German Max Planck Institute has determined that in 1650 fewer than 1 million people were considered “educated.” In 1950 there were 10 million “educated people,” meaning humankind needed 300 years to multiply the number of educated people by 10. However, this number increased tenfold in just another 50 years—by the year 2000 there were already 100 million “educated people.” All these people think, talk, and write, so the body of knowledge multiplies faster and faster. In fact, there is more technology in a modern smartphone than in a complete 1968 space shuttle.

It is therefore not surprising that never before have breakthrough innovations, or “disruptive changes,” a term coined by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, followed each other in such a rapid succession. Entire industries are replaced overnight and new industries are established, making old ones superfluous. Institutions such as the former photography giant Kodak, the once highly profitable Lehman Brothers investment bank, and the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia—once the shining star of the industry—disappeared from the scene. Correspondingly, especially highly qualified individuals, such as bankers, lawyers, and executives, need to be enormously flexible and prepared to change positions, or even industries, faster than ever.

How, then, in light of all this, is it possible to have even the slightest confidence in your own competence? This question had been on my mind since the early 2000s, when I completed my master’s thesis on perceived competence at Oxford. Years later, on an evening in New York in 2009, it finally became clear to me.

At that time, as I have already mentioned, I was living in Manhattan and working as a diplomat at the United Nations as part of my legal training. As the world was in the midst of the effects of the financial crisis, and we were right in its epicenter in Manhattan, my boss asked me to write a report on how international institutions could prevent such crises in the future. “Sure,” I said keenly, and walked straight into my office to Google, “How to prevent a financial crisis”—one has to start somewhere. One source led to another, and I worked on the topic for about a week and presented it to my boss.

“Abbreviate it,” he told me over and over again. And so I learned an important lesson that I preach to all my students: a good paper is not one in which nothing can be added but one in which nothing can be left out. Five pages shrank to a single one—big shots have little time—and my report was accepted at last.

The following day I watched a press conference on TV and saw a very senior member of the German government plead for strengthening the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to avoid another financial crisis of the same kind in the future. The plan corresponded almost word for word to my short report—with no mention of the author . . .

A week later, on that night in 2009, I was sitting in the Delegates’ Lounge at a weekly get-together of UN diplomats with a splendid view of the East River. Next to me sat a senior politician who was there representing his country’s stance in some plenary sessions. On day one he talked about the infrastructure of an African nation, on day two about the security situation in the Middle East. But of course he owed his knowledge to a poor fellow just like me who had worked on the topic for days behind closed doors (again, wearing a suit and tie). After two, three, or four drinks I asked, “You didn’t know any details on the topics before you came, did you?”

“Nope,” he said, smiled, and took another sip.

I couldn’t help but blurt out a question that had been on my mind for some time: “Don’t you feel like a charlatan?”

He gave me an answer that I recall almost verbatim: “Not at all. Of course I don’t know any details. How should I?” His face turned serious. “My job as a leader is to show certainty in an ocean of uncertainty.” He then added, “An expert is someone who knows a lot about very little. A leader is someone who knows very little about a lot.”

I had an epiphany that evening that has since been illustrated to me again and again, especially when dealing with people at the highest executive levels: successful leaders do not quarrel with their ignorance, they are fully aware of it and accept it.

German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s “System Theory” reinforces this approach, stating that each and every system is isolated from the environment and each system has its own structure.20 The factory worker acts within his own system, and so does the CEO. Consultants also act within a system and should not feel they have the bird’s-eye view simply because there is no all-encompassing knowledge.21 The world, with its people and organizations, is too complex for anyone to maintain an overview of everything. We can all only act within our own little system.

I am convinced that the awareness that you can only be competent within your own system is one of the keys to long-term success—and to mental health.

A Question of Technique

If you try to display your competence in the midst of all of these adverse circumstances and dilemmas, you will most likely fail. Common sense may help us ingratiate ourselves to others, but it hardly helps in coming up with effective techniques to increase our perceived competence. Though we seem to know how to be friendly or congenial, time and again we exhibit an inability to showcase our expertise in a positive, productive, and effective way.

In an experiment, subjects were told to make their conversation partner like them.22 Lo and behold, most were successful. Their techniques? They were kind and polite and they smiled a lot. Easy.

Then they were asked to make a competent impression. Now they failed miserably. Their “techniques”? Their body language became stiff and stilted, and they spoke in a pompous manner and tended to disagree more with their conversation partner. Accordingly, they were rated not only as less competent but also as unlikable and cold.

We instinctively know what makes us pleasant, but we have no idea how to show our competence.23 That’s what this book is about: the most effective ways known to radiate competence. These are techniques of impression management, the conscious influence of our impression.24 And there’s more good news: these techniques aren’t just beneficial for you, the individual, but for everyone you interact with, thanks to a phenomenon known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Suppose a fortuneteller predicts that you will gain 20 pounds in the next few months and you believe him. You would then probably give up your current diet because you would consider it pointless anyway. By quitting, you’ll end up gaining weight, causing the fortuneteller’s prediction to come true. Studies have also shown a similar process at work in the relationship between astrology and personality: people who are aware of the alleged personality characteristics of their zodiac sign actually behave accordingly.25 So your horoscope becomes reality, but only if you know about it.

When it comes to competence, self-fulfilling prophecies work like a charm. Patients recover better if they consider their doctor to be competent—with the similar treatment.26 In fact, in some cases patients can fully recover if they only believe in a treatment, despite its ineffectiveness. Who hasn’t heard of the placebo effect? A patient is given a pill without any actual medicinal substance whatsoever, and yet it works because the patient believes in it, the pill’s effectiveness being influenced by absurd factors such as size, color, price, and shape.27

Another example of the phenomenon at work: Students learn more from teachers whom they consider competent and as a result perform better themselves. In contrast, the performance of students who consider their teachers to be incompetent significantly decreases.28

When it comes to showing competence, this self-fulfilling prophecy works in both directions, as an increase in perceived competence also increases actual competence. If you are perceived as competent, you will be treated accordingly, which in turn affects others’ behavior positively.

We have all experienced situations where we have been labeled by others, whether positive or negative. If you’re known as a prankster, every comment you make is interpreted as a joke, causing others to laugh about every little thing you say. In turn, you start to believe in your own sense of humor and give it more credence. If you are considered a “weirdo,” on the other hand, chances are that sooner or later, after your neutral behavior is misinterpreted again and again, you eventually start acting “weird.”

The same idea applies to competence: When regarded as competent, others will grant you more opportunities to display your abilities. The label and actual competence then merge. The same can happen the other way: if you are considered incompetent, you will face a hostile environment where your skills just cannot bloom—and your performance will become worse and worse.

Interestingly, those who use effective techniques to increase their perceived competence are more accurately assessed than those who do not use such techniques. In other words, the correct techniques help you to show your true self.29


Do you remember the last time you had to give an important presentation? You most likely did more than just put a lot of thought into what you had to say. You probably also considered how to say it, what to wear, and how to interact with the audience. Such care should be taken with every type of communication we are involved in, because every interaction is a presentation that works for or against you. And make no mistake: just doing a good job isn’t enough. If you bury yourself in work, you will only be noticed when something goes wrong.

The good news is that you can control a large part of what others think about you, an opportunity you should seize. The idea is to become your own PR agent, showing your skills by utilizing effective impression management tools; not only when giving a talk, writing your resume, or interviewing for a job—always!30 Perceived competence gives you the power to convince, influence, and lead others, as groups are persuaded by the person who appears to be most competent. When you are perceived to be incompetent, on the other hand, it will be almost impossible to win people over.31

By using the techniques described in this book, you will be able to display your expertise so that you receive the recognition you deserve. Throughout the chapters, psychological phenomena from decades of research are explored and exploited to help you showcase your expertise. Actions like controlling expectations, properly delivering good or bad news, using verbal and nonverbal techniques—most of these methods can be applied immediately, others need some practice, but none of them call for you to change your personality: authenticity is key in order to appear as a luminary.

With the advice in this book you will be able to exhibit your abilities in front of customers, colleagues, and superiors. Whether in meetings, presentations, or crucial conversations, you will be able to convince others of your expertise and be appreciated and respected like never before. At the same time, your perception will be trained to accurately assess the competence of others.

When you understand and implement these techniques and tools, your company will profit just as much, whether you are an executive or a sales representative, because customers prefer to buy from people they consider to be competent. The growing field of “corporate reputation” gives a great role to the employee’s perceived competence. Oxford researchers David Waller and Rupert Younger found one of the pillars of corporate reputation to be the employee’s perceived character (“character reputation”), along with his or her perceived competence (“capability reputation”).32 In fact, a CEO’s perceived competence has a direct influence not only on the company’s reputation but also on its actual performance.33 It is therefore prudent for companies to focus on their employees’ perceived competence.

Before moving on to the next chapter, let’s return to the amazing story of Joshua Bell and the article about his experience that won journalist Gene Weingarten the Pulitzer Prize. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet about this experiment at L’Enfant Plaza Station: a single passerby recognized Bell’s virtuosity without actually recognizing the performer. John Picarello, who in his teenage years wanted to become a violinist himself, said, “This was a superb violinist. I’ve never heard anyone of that caliber. . . . It was a treat, just a brilliant, incredible way to start the day.” Picarello stands in front of Bell and keeps looking around in despair, as no one else seems to understand what’s going on.

Now imagine that not only one man is left standing, but that 1,097 passersby have stopped as well and they are all watching you because they know that they are witnessing something amazing, something brilliant in your performance. And you don’t even have to be Joshua Bell.

* I have to admit, it was a great time for a legal trainee. I could afford to live in a doorman building on Park Avenue, and could get a table at every restaurant in town, with heavy discounts: Restaurant Week was extended to last a whole month.

* An annual compensation of $5 million for an equity partner is not unusual, and this was about nine years ago, which is why I truly hope this book will sell well. Please recommend it to your friends and do not lend it to them.

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“In an age of information overload and default to algorithms, the ability to assess and convey true expertise is a critical managerial competency. Convinced! will help show you the way.”
—Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company
“Every second of every day, judgement and assessments of competence are being made. Whatever your role or expertise, “Convinced” provides fascinating and practical insights into steps anyone can take to engender and promote that all important sense of confidence and trust. Compelling, highly entertaining and thoroughly convincing!”
– Matthew Layton, Global Managing Partner, Clifford Chance LLP

“To gain assent from others, it's not enough to possess competence on the topic at hand. It's also necessary to project that competence successfully. With
Convinced!, at last there's a book that shows us how. We needed this book.”
—Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion
“You may have your foundation degree and experience. You may even have your MBA. But now you need to go to finishing school and read
Convinced! An excellent insight into the importance of not just being competent but being perceived to be competent. A compelling read.”
—Andy Palmer, President and CEO, Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd.
“To land a job, enlist investors, close a deal, or lead an initiative, being the best person to play that role isn't enough. What matters most is persuading other people that you're the one they can count on to deliver what they need. Jack Nasher's compelling new book lays out eight practical principles for positively shaping how others judge your competence. I'm convinced of the power of his advice. And you'll be convinced, as well.”
—Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Art of Negotiation
“As a river runs to the sea, power flows to those who can persuade. Jack Nasher gives you the tools you need to win others over and keep them moving in the right direction.”
—G. Richard Shell, Wharton professor and coauthor of The Art of Woo
“Perceptions matter. 
Convinced! identifies the behaviors, networks, and narrative strategies that you can use to shape perceptions and create a competitive edge.”
—Rupert Younger, Director, Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation
“Be it in business or diplomacy, convincing people of one's expertise is key to successful negotiations. Radiating that competence also helps leaders gain the legitimacy to lead. Dr. Nasher's book offers scientifically grounded, real-life techniques that should be required reading for public and private sector managers alike.”
—Alexander Vinnikov, Head of the NATO Representation to Ukraine
“At the heart of Professor Nasher's book is a key central thesis: it is no longer enough to be extraordinarily competent. These days, it is necessary for all top managers—and anyone who aspires to be one—to embrace the responsibility for their own personal PR. The author introduces techniques that allow readers to display their expertise in ways that will earn them the recognition they deserve. 
Convinced! is educational (but never pedantic), engaging, and entertaining. Highly recommended!”
—Georges Kern, CEO, Breitling SA

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