By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
In foreign policy, the projection of certainty and confidence can be as important as the strategy. On that score, it hasn't been an easy few weeks for the Obama administration. While some find it refreshing for leaders to avoid quick bravado in response to complex world events, others have attacked everything from the President's choice in suit color ("The Audacity of Taupe") to the admission of a lack of strategy in response to events in Iraq and Syria. Critics argue that this lack of confidence projects uncertainty which weakens our position and emboldens our enemies. And there is another area where a lack of confidence can do the same: trials. When an attorney or witness conveys discomfort, uncertainty, or a lack of confident composure, jurors and judges will take that as a reflection on the case. Even when we know it isn't true, we act as though it is: Winners are confident and losers aren't.
The research backs that up as well. In addition to decades of studies showing that confidence is a key component of credibility, a new study (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014) shows that even false confidence can be very convincing. People who overestimate their own abilities end up being seen as more talented than others and are more likely to get positive breaks in life. And the converse goes for those who underestimate their abilities. Both uncertainty as well as the overconfidence are likely to bleed over into an audience's analysis. For jurors or judges, that means that their own sense of how a witness is doing on the stand, for example, will be strongly influenced by the witness's own sense. This post takes a look at the study and then, confidently, draws out a few implications for witness preparation.