How To Make People Think You Know What You Are Doing (When You Clearly Don’t)

May 26, 2022 by , featured in Beginners Guides
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Fooling strangers into thinking you know what you’re doing may seem intimidating, but it’s actually pretty simple. Trust me, I gave a TED Talk on it once. The key is confidence. Fake it ’til you make it! The voice inside your head calling you a screw-up may be right, but remember that no one else can hear it! Probably.

The following are some common situations that may require faking expertise in a subject you know absolutely nothing about.

You know what you're doing

Grocery stores

The key to avoiding judgment while restocking supplies is not to overthink it. A pro shopper doesn’t hesitate. Determine in advance whether you will need a cart or a basket. (If in doubt, get one of each.) Time yourself so that you can increase the speed at which you hurtle through the aisles.

Don’t debate between generic and brand name products! That’s what amateurs do! Pick up whichever version first comes to hand. In fact, don’t even look at it; experienced shoppers recognize all food items by touch. The mother of three at the other end of the aisle is judging you for every second you spend deliberating.

You know what you're doing


Firstly, make frequent trips to the water fountain. Everyone will be impressed that you understand the value of a) hydration and b) cutting down your water bill by using the gym’s water. Secondly, all machines at the gym are also optional stretching aids, so if you don’t know how to use something, put your foot on it and lean in various directions. Smile at the people who seem friendly. (I’m afraid I can’t help you with identifying these individuals. All people look hostile to me.)

You know what you're doing

Operating rooms

The first (and only) law of an operating room is that he or she who hesitates is lost. Remember how I said not to listen to the voice saying you can’t do anything right? Any indecisiveness will be taken as weakness by the assisting physicians and nurses—start cutting and keep cutting until the job is done or the heart monitor goes silent.

You know what you're doing

Dinner parties

Assert dominance by leaving your napkin firmly on the table. Casually glance at your neighbor to see which piece of silverware they pick up first. If nobody is picking up any silverware, it probably means you’ve been discovered as a fraud, and they’re waiting to humiliate you, and your only option is now to excuse yourself and hide in the bathroom. Either that or you’re being served sandwiches.

You don’t want to be a nervous chatterbox, but you don’t want to be totally silent either! Make casual conversation, sticking to topics that you know really well, like your record grocery shopping speed or your ranking system for gym water fountains.

You know what you're doing

Wilderness expeditions

Everyone else in the group definitely hates your guts and is hoping for an opportunity to leave you behind or “lose” you in the woods. Don’t show fear or they’ll eat you alive, maybe literally if supplies have run low. Sniff the air a lot, move in a low crouch, and nibble on random plants with a thoughtful expression; these actions indicate that you have valuable survival skills. Hopefully, it will prevent the rest of your party from abandoning you the way everyone else in your life has.

You know what you're doing

Networking events

If there’s food or drink available, use it as an opportunity to have both hands full. This negates your ability to shake anyone’s hand and helps you avoid that classic ‘oh god which hand is it, left or right?’ dilemma.

You know what you're doing

Parking lots

Avoid them. It’s impossible to look like you know what you’re doing in a parking lot if you aren’t the real deal.

Useful Phrases

Here are a couple of handy all-purpose phrases for when your facade starts slipping and you need to reassert the fact that you know exactly what you’re doing and are very good at it.

It’s really no big deal.

Loudly saying this to the people in your general vicinity will create an aura of magnanimous know-how. The only thing people respect more than an expert is an expert who isn’t trying.

I gave a TED Talk on this once.

This is the pinnacle of professional achievement, and any deviations from the standard procedure will henceforth be taken as character quirks. No one will be saying, “Look at that weirdo eating cheese cubes over by the refreshments table”—instead they’ll say, “I heard he gave a TED Talk on funerals, he knows what he’s doing.”

Could you move out of my light, please?

Put the burden of failure on your audience. Of course, you’re having trouble choosing a cereal brand, directing flight traffic, or unlocking your car! You can’t see! Could Milton have written Paradise Lost with someone throwing their huge, thoughtless shadow over his desk? Absolutely not.

There you have it! With these basic tips, you are now armed to take on an array of common situations in which you might not know what you’re doing. Now please stop asking to see my references. Please.


Images: pixabay, Wikimedia Commons

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