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The Science of Confidence

The Science of Confidence

confidenceIn our lives we often seek the help of others when trying to improve. We hire coaches, find mentors, visit counselors or purchase books. If we apply the lessons learned through these interactions there is a big chance we will see improvements.

But what do we do when faced with the task of building up others? After accepting this responsibility we are no longer the coached, a mentee, the counseled or the reader seeking knowledge. At this stage others look toward us for growth. How do we help them?

In the book, Finding Your Zone, by Michael Lardon, M.D., he discusses psychologist Albert Bandura's (famous for the Bobo Doll Experiment) process for developing confidence. The steps are:

1. Mastery Experiences
2. Vicarious Learning
3. Modeling Behavior; and
4. Social Persuasion

As a communications professor I use these techniques all of the time. Therefore, I will explain how each works by applying it to one of the courses I teach, Public Speaking.

Mastery Experiences

One of the components necessary to build confidence is previous success in the endeavor you are trying to be successful in. Since my course's ultimate goal is to have students competently deliver three speeches, classes are geared toward providing them with public speaking experience. Each class (except for test dates) students work through short exercises in order to demonstrate to them that they can speak in front of others and that nothing dreadful will occur. Whether it's discussing a current event, telling us about a hobby or interest, or delivering a Public Service Announcement as a group they develop a portfolio of experiences that lets them know that they have succeeded in speaking in front of others before.

Vicarious Learning

This is simply the process of learning through the experiences of others. In training others a more simple way of explaining vicarious learning would be, "Well if he or she can do it, then I know I can!"

I make use of this type of learning by asking students at the beginning of the semester if they are afraid of speaking in public. More than half of the class usually confesses. (The other half are probably too afraid to admit it.) It is great that they are truthful because as time passes students repeatedly witness others, who are just as scared as they are, successfully go in front of their classmates, present information and have fun while doing it. They learn that it isn't so hard and it can be exciting.

Modeling Behavior

This third phase is achieved by finding examples of people who are involved in the same activity but performing at an extremely high level. By observing the behavior of the highly skilled the observer ‘raises the bar' and sees the potential available to them. In my speech course this is accomplished by analyzing videos of famous public figures and also videos of former students who delivered amazing speeches in previous classes. By critiquing those speeches we further identify the specific behaviors that the students should mimic.

Social Persuasion

Lardon describes this as ‘positive verbal reinforcement.' We all need encouragement and in many instances a positive word is all someone needs in order to keep going. In my course, I can't say ‘good job' every time someone speaks in front of the class and a lot of times it wasn't a ‘good job.' Those you have to train will not always perform admirably as well. But what I do at the end of the classroom exercises is thank everyone for their participation and provide positive group assessments.

As an aside, in most of my classes students clap after each person finishes an exercise. I do not suggest or prompt them to do so. The students quickly realize that they are all in the same predicament so they might as well be supportive. I know that clapping is not verbal persuasion but it still makes the person feel that they are in a positive and supportive environment.

Final Thoughts

I used my speech course as an example because teaching people how to communicate through speech, media writing, etc., is my specialty. However, the techniques that Lardon shared through Bandura can be applied to work settings, sports, clubs and organizations. I hope you find it useful.

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

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