There is a lot of talk about confidence at the moment. Confidence in governments, confidence in scientists, in the hope of a vaccine, in the economy, in the medical profession. We talk to one person and they are bullish about everything getting back to normal with minimal long-term damage. It makes us think we could plan a party. We talk to the next person and we hear an end-of-days perspective which makes us wonder whether anything will ever be normal again.
It’s important that we get this balance right because everything depends on the confidence being at the right level. Over confidence risks the kinds of situations we have seen in America and elsewhere with secondary lockdowns, long queues for tests and furious debates about civil liberties. Under confidence – sometimes legitimate, sometimes misplaced – will paralyse our economy and inhibit growth.
Recent debate about the compulsory use of facemasks has illustrated the whole issue very clearly. Some feel that facemasks will give people a misplaced sense of security and thus disinhibit them from protective behaviours. Others fear that the facemasks themselves will be full of virus particles and will therefore encourage the spread when they are touched by the user. The third, and largest, group take the view that facemasks will reduce the spread of infection and be a visual reminder of vigilance.
The difficulty with all the discussions around facemasks is the fundamental misunderstanding most people have about their use. Every non-expert person I have seen talking about it has said ‘I want to protect myself….’ yet facemasks don’t protect the wearer, they protect everyone else from the wearer. Perhaps that distinction doesn’t matter in the context but I think it’s a very telling reaction and one that demonstrates how we can use confidence to move forward out of the current situation.
If you can project confidence in your proposal, demonstrate that it is practical and useful and if you can respond convincingly to nay-sayers, you will make people feel that it is the only viable option. If you are willing to take a calculated and well-planned risk and are able to explain why that risk is minimal, you will take people along with you. Half the problems the government and others have had recently have been about confidence. Misplaced over-confidence or a confidence-shattering inability to make clear decisions have both contributed to a general air of mistrust. This has happened everywhere and to all governments but it must not happen to you.
People remain very cautious at present. They have grown used to caution and they are prepared to continue in a cautious vein for the foreseeable future. If your project or job application or investment opportunity are to succeed, you need to make that caution turn into confidence and take others along with you.