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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About the Author
Jack Nasher is the founder of the NASHER Negotiation Institute and advises corporations on crucial negotiations. He is on the faculty of Stanford University, studied and taught at Oxford University, and became the youngest full-professor appointee in the history of Munich Business School. He also performs as a mentalist at the world-renown Magic Castle in Hollywood. He is an award-winning researcher, a full member of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, and a principle practitioner with the Association of Business Psychologists.
Read an Excerpt
THE PERCEPTION OF BRILLIANCE
ACTUAL VERSUS PERCEIVED COMPETENCE
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.
— MARVIN BOWER (1965)
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.
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.
"And how much will he make?"
"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?"
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."
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. 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.
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 in competent 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." 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. 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. 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. Even one-on-one conversations do not help us to properly assess others' abilities.
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. 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. 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. 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." 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.
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.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Convinced!"
Copyright © 2018 Jack Nasher.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Perception of Brilliance; Actual versus Perceived Competence 7
The Experiment 7
The Assessment Problem 13
Just World Principle 15
True Competences? 17
A Question of Technique 22
Chapter 2 The Anticipation Effect: Managing Expectations to Show Your Expertise 27
The Richest Man in the World 27
Prom Modesty to Boasting 30
Modesty Is …? 47
Chapter 3 Good News, Bad News: Using the Power of Association 55
The Power of Association 55
Delivering Good News 57
Bearing Bad News 60
The Primacy Effect 68
Chapter 4 The Competence Formula: Framing Your Competence 76
The Amazing Fitzjames 76
Tough and Unlucky 79
Effortless Superiority 81
Chapter 5 Verbal Communication: How to Speak like an Expert 91
As Seen on TV 91
Standard English 93
Effective Speech 96
Power Talking 97
Unnecessary Complications (Skip This Section!) 99
Chapter 6 Nonverbal Communication: How to Move like an Expert 103
The Effects of Nonverbal Communication 103
Near and Far 104
Stand Properly, Sit Properly 106
Eye Contact 109
Smile Please? 111
Body Contact 113
Chapter 7 Beautiful and Popular: How to Increase Your Popularity and Attractiveness 121
The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings 121
Chapter 8 Status: The Power of Symbols 149
Image Consultancy for Consultants 149
Status and Competence 151
BTRGing: Using Indirect Status 165
Conclusion: What Now? 174
Epilogue: Science and the World 180
About the Author 255