As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I found myself in several situations where the FBI was criticized, and I was expected to justify its actions. As with most sophisticated investigations, there are many steps when building a case and evidence is not always made public until it goes to trial.
That didn’t stop reporters or members of the public from criticizing what they didn’t know or understand. They hoped they would find a soft center when they peppered me with questions, and that I’d capitulate under their harsh cross-examination.
They left disappointed because I could speak to them with conviction when it really mattered. While the FBI is not perfect, I was proud to be an agent because the FBI’s core values resonated with my own:
What Is Conviction?
When we speak with conviction, we convey a strong belief or opinion; we are confident that what we believe or say is true.
It can take mental toughness to speak with conviction. Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment.
You can fake it for a while, but when the chips are down, and you are face-to-face with someone who won’t listen to you, you begin to sound and look like road kill. And then you wonder why you didn’t get a raise, lost a sales contract, or were bypassed for promotion.
If you can’t speak with conviction on the topic, you will find that your audience isn’t engaged in what you have to say, or they challenge you and continue to throw out more questions. When you don’t speak with conviction, you can undermine your level of knowledge and authority.
Conviction Is An Essential Leadership Skill
Conviction is rare; listen to any politician as proof! And it’s not just politicians who give us reason to doubt what people say. Our brains are hardwired to react with uncertainty and suspicion.
This trait kept us safe from saber-tooth tigers back in the day, but our brain still moves into an emotional state when confronted with something new or different.
In today’s world, things change so quickly that there’s a lot of uncertainty in your audience’s mind. Since brains respond to uncertainty as a threat, leaders who can speak with conviction calm the brain and create an environment of certainty. This allows the brains of people to relax and digest the message.
When leaders convey their message with conviction, mirror neurons in the brains of the audience “mirror” the behavior of the leader. These neurons are in the same region of the brain that controls perception, so when people perceive that a leader is authentic, they will mirror the leader’s emotional state.
When you try and fake your message, mirror neurons will alert your audience that your thoughts, words, and behavior don’t match, and they are less likely to believe what you are telling them.
Conviction Requires Being In Touch With Your Values
Many of us look at life as a series of transactions. “I will complete this activity because I’ll get recognition, a raise, or…whatever.” Our conviction is commensurate with the reward that will accompany it.
But, at some point on our journey toward maturity, we realize that we can’t bargain for the important things in life. Love, joy, happiness, and a life of meaning are things that can’t be bought or manipulated.
When we are in touch with our values, It’s easier to say what we need to say in an authentic manner. For example, I could stand up for the FBI because I believed in its mission.
Tips On How To Speak With Conviction
Always speak the truth. The truth rarely needs much explanation, although you might find that your audience doesn’t need all the truth. Make sure you mean what you say because even a little white lie can come back to haunt you.
End your sentence strong. Watch that your voice doesn’t drop at the end of the sentence.
Know your stuff. Be prepared so you know what you’re going to say and how you will say it.
Never start a sentence with “I think…” Instead, start your sentence strong and with conviction. You diminish the impact of your statement when you say, “I think.” You want your audience to know that what you say is important and that you are the authority.
Avoid filler words. Practice and become familiar enough with your material that you don’t use words such as: so, um, you know, like, I mean…the list goes on.
Make eye contact. Say what you need to say with confidence. If the facts are behind you, you can speak with conviction.