The Confidence Game: How to Bring Out Your Inner Hotshot
When it's my turn to act, I am paired with a 20-something woman named Amneh, a recent business school graduate. As we begin, Amneh's chin is down, her eyes flicking up to my face only occasionally. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm driving you crazy!" she blurts with a nervous laugh, shrinking into her seat, knees pressed tightly together, elbows digging into her sides. Every so often, she fidgets, smoothing her eyebrows or adjusting her scarf.
I lean back comfortably in my seat, draping my arm over the chair between us. Kostopoulos nudges my foot, prompting me to stretch my legs in front of me. I cross them at the ankles.
"I can get used to anything," I say. "That's one of my strengths." I am looking directly at Amneh, holding my gaze steady.
"That's funny," she chirps. Her hands are now pinned under her thighs, which makes her seem even smaller.
Kostopoulos interrupts: "Don't raise your eyebrows as you ask the question."
"Why?" I say again, stone-faced.
Amneh giggles and clears her throat before saying, "That's my strength, too." She ventures a brief, unconvincing smile before dropping her gaze to the floor.
I stand up, walk a few paces, then slowly turn to face her. My weight is evenly balanced on both feet; my hands rest lightly on my hips. I am about to respond when I feel Kostopoulos's cool hands grasp my head from behind, lifting my chin higher and lengthening my spine.
"Now go," she says.
I start to speak, but Kostopoulos interrupts again: "Slower."
I try again, more leisurely this time.
"Even slower," Kostopoulos says, her hands still cupping the sides of my head.
I try once more, enunciating every syllable. It feels awkward, speaking so slowly, standing so squarely, holding my head so still. I am fighting an urge to fold my arms over my chest. But as I talk, I feel a rising recognition that my aloof posture has put me in control. I could eat Amneh for lunch.
Keeping up this facade with Kostopoulos clutching my skull, however, proves beyond my abilities. A moment later, the spell is broken, and Amneh and I burst into laughter. Still, these few minutes of playacting have palpably demonstrated how minor physical adjustments can profoundly alter the course of an interaction.