4 Ways 'Fake It Till You Make It' Can Backfire

Find a balance between showing your worth and remaining humble and authentic.

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By Lauren Hirsch-Williams

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The longstanding adage "Fake it till you make it" coaches us to behave as if we're in a position well before we master it. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, act like you already are one. If you seek investments, imitate the behavior of someone who acquires funding often. If you pursue partnerships with high-level players, replicate the actions of an individual worthy of that alliance, and so on.

This practice, done well, must include visualization and knowing where you ultimately want to wind up. If you know what you seek — by describing the outcome and visualizing what you're planning for — you're much more likely to get it.

Or are you?

What if FITYMI doesn't work? What if this sage advice induces the exact opposite of what you want? Remarkably, this happens most of the time. The majority of people tend not to think about how FITYMI can cause a problem or even totally backfire.

Here are four common scenarios where "fake it till you make it" will undeniably be the root of your failure.

1. When you think you're the most important person in the room

Nerves, left unchecked, get the best of us at times. We're constantly told to fake our confidence, to hold our head high and to square our shoulders as we pitch an idea. Our mindset of being confident is a pillar of success, right? Who wants to work with someone who's afraid of their own shadow or who doesn't seem sure of the promises they're making or the business plan they're touting? We're supposed to renovate our thinking and be in the positive space we desire. Sometimes, though, a small shift one way or the other will cause you to come across as if you're more important than anyone else in the room. No one likes a braggart, especially mixed with those darn nerves that are ever-present. So make sure your FITYMI confidence isn't taken to an extreme. It's a delicate balance of having enough confidence to be investment-worthy (financial or otherwise) while also being humble and authentic enough to have people want to work with you.

Related: Leave Your Ego at the Door and Find the Path to Growth

2. When you act like you're better than other people

It's important for someone to take the lead in every meeting, to guide the process, flow and outcome; to take charge and drive the conversation; to determine who can speak and when. If you're the entrepreneur sharing your ideas with other people, naturally you want to behave in a way that reflects your pre-designed plan. After all, you've probably spent hours thinking about how to conduct the meeting. Yet you need to make sure you're flexible enough to serpentine, like they used to say, or simply shift and pivot if someone else in the room wants to change direction. It never works to act as if you're better than others by railroading someone who makes changes on the spot. You're all in that room together. Don't dismiss anyone or treat them as if they're less than. Go with the flow. That, in and of itself, gives you noticeable strength — which is exactly what you were looking for in the first place.

3. When your language and verbal communication appears pompous and condescending

Verbal communication matters. Your tone, choice of words and how you deliver them can make the fine-tuned difference between success and failure. You may not like what someone says in your meeting. You may not like how it denigrates your presentation. But the moment you let irritation creep into your voice or body language, you'll come across, at best, as condescending. If you continue to push back on the person who's derailing your flow, you'll come across as pompous. When that happens, it's best to simply end the meeting before things get worse.

Related: 25 Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

4. When you think you know more than you do

You studied, you googled, you spoke to friends. You did all you could to learn, memorize or remember some quirky obscure facts, all in hope of achieving FITYMI fame before that big meeting. You start with a bang, seemingly knowledgeable, then you take one small step too far and realize you opened up a subject that reveals you aren't as well-informed as you appeared only seconds before. The mood in the room shifts immediately and you begin to play catch-up by changing back to a subject that didn't require going beyond the second search page in Google. The rule to remember here: Stay within the limits of your knowledge. It's OK and sometimes welcomed to ask questions and not know everything. Most people in powerful positions liked to be asked questions. Questions can protect your FITYMI skills. Showing you know a small amount, while at the same time revealing your desire to learn more, can prove to be quite beneficial and refreshing.

So how are your FITYMI skills now?

The most important person in the room is generally the one with the most money or grandest title. Pure and simple. That person is usually the one in the most senior position, the one who holds the key to final decision-making.

You don't want to enter any meeting with your tail between your legs, your shoulders slightly slumped and your negative self-chatter dragging you into the depths of insecurity. However, watch out for swinging to the other side of the spectrum. You need to be very careful as you incorporate visualization techniques and confidence-bolstering exercises to ensure you come across as worthy of an investment, partnership or even a job for that matter.

Make sure you always create an atmosphere where each person in the room, in their own way, feels as if they are the most important person there. Hone your FITYMI skills, yet learn how to be nuanced and teach yourself how to keep the "faking it" to a minimum and the "making it" to a maximum. Understand finesse and you've mastered the powerful practice of "fake it till you make it" on that bumpy, unforgiving road to entrepreneurial success.
Lauren Hirsch-Williams

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

High-Performance/Business Relevance Strategist

Lauren Hirsch-Williams is a high-performance and business-relevance strategist helping professionals better read people and win the room. She's served as worldwide director of advertising at PepsiCo, founder of Global Media Fusion and MovieHatch, and as an executive producer and consultant.

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