Peter Nixey
Published in

Peter Nixey

People aren’t reading your ability. They’re reading your read on your ability

You cannot underestimate the effect that your attitude and confidence has on how people perceive you. And the difference in approaches can be crazy between men and women. This Top Gear clip has both Will Smith and Margot Robbie doing the “Star in a reasonably priced car” and is I think one of the most extreme illustrations of how differently men and women project themselves and the effect that it has on our perception of them.

Smith comes on with his usual bravado and bluster. Robbie comes on very meek and feminine. Smith is as always projecting himself larger than life but at the end of the day this is driving, it’s a matter of skill not strength and they’re on a reasonably level playing field. In fact Robbie’s been driving since she was a kid but she’s still very apologetic about her ability while Will Smith tells here “if you beat me, this is your last day on the tour”. When Clarkson asks them how they think they’ve done they both lean in but while Smith looks to the top of the leader-board, Robbie looks to the bottom.

As her result is being read out, Robbie glances nervously across at Will Smith who looks progressively more affronted. When Clarkson reads out the final result though it turns out that they’re not only close, she won.

She’s been driving on her farm in Australia since she was a kid, she knows how to drive. She beat him because she’s a great driver. But the first thing she does is apologise to Smith. Why does she possibly feel she should do that? If it was Mark Wahlberg instead of Margot his first statement to Smith would have probably been “Oh snap bitch. You just got owned”. Margot though apologises.

Even post-results, his attitude and confidence still project that he’s the man. Even when he ain’t. Even having beaten him both you and she are left thinking that it’s a fluke.

In the long run I like to think data and performance wins out. But in the day to day and the heat of the pitch you have to remember that the number one thing that people are reading is your take on you. Do you believe you’re it? Because when people have sparse data they’re reading your take on you. And if your take on you is less than the next person’s take on themselves then they’re going to pick that person instead.

It always seems unfair that the bluster wins it but when you flip it round and you’re making a decision with low info you can start to see why. Whether it’s investing, hiring or promoting you’re reading the data but you’re also reading the person. You’re reading “what do I think of this person and what do they think of themselves”. If I think they’re solid but they don’t think they’re up to the job then I’m going to walk away doubting my judgement. If I think they’re solid and they think they’re excellent then I’m going to walk away thinking they might well actually be excellent. They know themselves better than I do and I can’t help putting a chunk of weight behind their own judgement.

I think Margot Robbie’s awesome in this clip and I love it that she beats Smith. But I also think it’s insane how much their mutual attitudes bend our perception not only of what was about to happen but in retrospect, even what actually did happen. It turns out it’s hard for someone to believe you’re the best if you don’t believe it yourself.



Founder and CEO of Rails and Angular developer, product guy, former Part Time Partner at Entprepreneur first and YC Alum.

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