Matthew Hussey Headshot Before I start, I do think confidence is important. But there's something about the phrase “just be confident” that makes me cringe, especially when it comes to our love lives.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been fortunate enough to help more than three million women with their dating lives. And I've learned that what people want isn't a bunch of aphorisms or inspirational quotes. It’s real, practical advice.

After all, it would be unheard of to begin a new job and have your boss say, “Just be confident and you’ll be fine!” Or to start a new workout plan without having a clue what to do at the gym. To be successful, we need training and practice. If confidence alone doesn’t cut it in other areas of our life, why would dating be any different?

The crucial missing ingredient is competence. Confidence tells us “I can do this,” whereas competence says, “I know how to do this.”

In dating, this means knowing how to strike up a conversation (or flirt) with strangers, talk about ourselves in an interesting way on a date, or let a new love interest know that something they did bothered us (without seeming high-maintenance). These things aren’t about having self-belief or self-confidence; they are about knowing how.

Anthony Bourdain once interviewed a fellow chef who said he “practices“ being a great dinner guest. He prepares anecdotes and thinks of interesting things to say before he arrives, as he believes that it's not only the host's responsibility to put on a delicious dinner, but also the guest's to be entertaining. Being a “guest“ is not a passive role. Again, it requires competence.

Just as being successful at your job, starting a new workout plan, and being a good dinner guest require competence, so too does dating. With that in mind, here are some ways we can increase our dating competence.

Talking on Street 1. Strike up a conversation with a stranger.

It's a common complaint I'm sure you've heard: “There simply aren't a lot of dating prospects out there.“ But the real problem? We're waiting for everybody else to take the risk in striking up a conversation with us—not the other way around.

If you get in the habit of proactively socializing with random people (your local barista, the security guard in your work building, guys at the bar you aren’t particularly attracted to), it won’t be such an alien concept when you see someone you like.

Try one of these things each day:

  • Compliment one person on their shoes.
  • Ask someone a question: for the time, to recommend a restaurant in the area, or for directions.
  • In line at a coffee shop or at a restaurant, ask the person next to you what they ordered and whether they’d recommend it.

2. Know how to flirt.

Yep, flirting is a learned skill. Even if you can easily strike up a platonic conversation, the idea of legit flirting with someone can be terrifying. You may worry they are taken, that you might be rejected, or that you're simply bad at flirting.

First, let’s appreciate that flirting isn’t the same as seducing. It’s an everyday thing that can be as subtle as bantering with someone at work. Individuals who are good at it are at ease with themselves and used to creating fun, playful moments with people.

Next time you’re out and see someone attractive, try one of these simple ways to show you’re interested.

  • Look at them for a second longer than is comfortable. Smile slightly as you look away. OK, it may feel weird, but it definitely sends a message that you're interested.
  • When you're chatting with someone at the bar, poke fun at them in a teasing (not offensive) way. For instance, if their friends walk off while you’re talking to them, joke how they’ve been left on their own (maybe grab their arm too).
  • Right off the bat tell someone, “You’re really attractive.” It’s bold, but at least there’s no ambiguity!

Couple Meeting at a Bar 3. Brainstorm before a date.

When you’re on a date, you’d like to be able to just relax and have fun, right? Well the best way to relax is knowing you have a ready stock of interesting things to say. Most people think of great things to talk about after they've left the date. But when they're in front of the person, they are scratching their heads for things to talk about.

Before your next date, take five minutes to think of interesting topics to bring up over drinks or dinner. Ask yourself these three key questions:

  • What’s the most interesting thing that happened to me this week?
  • What interesting book/article/movie/video have I read or seen recently?
  • What is something I am genuinely interested in hearing his/her opinion on?

4. Bring up an uncomfortable topic with your partner.

Most of us are awful at confrontation. When we finally do work up the courage to be honest with someone, we're often unable to articulate our thoughts without being overly aggressive or coming across as whiny. Fortunately there's a simple formula for handling these moments:

  1. Tell your partner the issue in an emotionally neutral tone.
  2. Make it about what’s important to you, not about him or her being right or wrong.
  3. Pay him or her a compliment at the same time as stating the change you’d like.

For example, if your partner is late to meet you (again), say:

  1. ”Hey, real quick, I want to be honest about something. You being late continuously is something I really don’t like.”
  2. ”I’m not judging, because I know some people just operate like that, but being on time is one of those things that’s important to me...”
  3. ”...especially with the person I care about and respect the most. I just always want to be able to rely on you to be there when you say you will be. Is that OK?”

Where Does Confidence Come Into Play?

Having said all this, is confidence still important? Absolutely, and I’ll give you a couple of examples of when having confidence is crucial:

  • When your heart is pounding because you see someone gorgeous you want to talk to
  • When your partner is talking to an attractive person
  • When your partner tells you they need a break and your instinct is to break down and beg them to reconsider

In each of these moments, a very specific kind of confidence is required. It is the feeling that we are enough. As John Candy says to his aspiring Olympic bobsled team in Cool Runnings: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”

So we come to the truth: All the confidence in the world will not be a substitute for the skill sets that get you what you want in life, and all the competence in the world can’t make you feel you deserve them.

Matthew Hussey is a New York Times-bestselling author, internationally recognized motivational speaker, and human dynamics specialist. To learn more, download his free texting guide, check out his website, and follow him on Facebook.

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