If you appear anxious, or make a mistake, will others judge you more negatively?

Do you get all nervous because you’re meeting someone new and want to impress them? Do you think they will see that you’re a little “shook up,” and that will make you look less competent?

The truth is, many studies confirm that when others see you as being anxious, their evaluation of you is likely to be more positive. Think about it. Your own anxiety in a situation can signal that you’re a human being – vulnerable, sensitive, and modest. Most people find those traits desirable in others because it’s how they see themselves. I remember many occasions when a student would visit my office for the first time with a question or problem, and the poor kid was nervous as a dog in a room full of veterinarians. I always took their discomfort as a sign that they had a significant problem, they really cared about it, and they needed help solving it. Those impressions always aroused a fair amount of empathy on my part.

What about making mistakes? Are you one of those who gets all anxious and bent out of shape when you slip-up in front of others? You’re in an important meeting and you knock your water bottle over and get some papers wet. “Oh my God,” you think, “they’re going to think I’m an incompetent boob.” Maybe not. Many of those present will probably feel some sympathy for you; others might like you, thinking “he’s a regular guy who makes mistakes just like I do”; still others might offer to help – “Let me get you a new set of papers.” The best way to cope with public errors is to acknowledge it (“Can’t believe I did that. Sorry, folks.”); be humorously humble about it (“I shouldn’t have put that bottle there. You can see why my family doesn’t like to let me out in public too often.”); ask for help (“Anyone have a napkin?”); and move on.

Here’s the thing. You’re human, not perfect. Be rational and reasonable about your self-expectations; you’re going to swing and miss at times. If someone wants to get down on you for that, make it their problem, not yours.

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