Stop Feeling Yourself! Harvard Says Less Confidence Equals More Success

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That statement sounds backward as all get out and truthfully I’m not sure the justification provided in the Harvard Business Review will clear things up much better for you.

In a piece simply titled, “Less Confident People are More Successful,” Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing, writes:

“After many years of researching and consulting on talent, I’ve come to the conclusion that self-confidence is only helpful when it’s low. Sure, extremely low confidence is not helpful: it inhibits performance by inducing fear, worry, and stress, which may drive people to give up sooner or later. But just-low-enough confidence can help you recalibrate your goals so they are (a) more realistic and (b) attainable.”

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic then writes out three points to support his argument:

1. Lower self-confidence makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical: Most people get trapped in their optimistic biases, so they tend to listen to positive feedback and ignore negative feedback. Although this may help them come across as confident to others, in any area of competence (e.g., education, business, sports or performing arts) achievement is 10% performance and 90% preparation. Thus, the more aware you are of your soft spots and weaknesses, the better prepared you will be.

2. Lower self-confidence can motivate you to work harder and prepare more: If you are serious about your goals, you will have more incentive to work hard when you lack confidence in your abilities. In fact, low confidence is only demotivating when you are not serious about your goals.

3. Lower self-confidence reduces the chances of coming across as arrogant or being deluded. Although we live in a world that worships those who worship themselves — from Donald Trump to Lady Gaga to the latest reality TV “star” — the consequences of hubris are now beyond debate. According to Gallup, over 60% of employees either dislike or hate their jobs, and the most common reason is that they have narcissistic bosses. If managers were less arrogant, fewer employees would be spending their working hours on Facebook, productivity rates would go up, and turnover rates would go down.

Adding a little more meat in between each of the points, the professor’s overarching point is that the less confident you are in what you’re doing, the more likely you are to prepare and work hard at achieving something. That obviously makes sense but when it comes to actually performing the things prepared for in moments of low confidence, appearing more self-assured is definitely valuable. Perhaps this article would have been better written as a cautionary tale to being over-confident rather than advocating a low level of self-confidence but I guess we get the point.

What do you think about this argument? Is it valid?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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