Could Having Less Confidence Make You More Successful?
Being insecure has benefits, but isn't advised
Stand up straight. Hold your head high. Speak clearly. Make eye contact.
For years, men and women, boys and girls, have been at the receiving end of pep talks advising them to behave with more confidence in order to succeed in school and in their subsequent careers.
However, a new report from the Harvard Business Review questions the need for such advice. Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist who specializes in personality profiling, found that it is the self-critical, shy and withdrawn co-worker who is more likely to be successful in the workplace. Chamorro-Premuzic said that those who are less confident do better than their peers because they are often less arrogant, more determined and naturally receptive to negative feedback.
One may need to only look to the stars—celebrities, that is—to perhaps find examples of Chamorro-Premuzic's point. Many successful superstars, including top-selling singer Mariah Carey and Oscar winner Halle Berry, have revealed how insecure they felt growing up, and how unsure of themselves they continue to feel even after becoming wildly successful.
"I've always had really low self-esteem, and I still do," Carey once told Allure magazine, following the release of an impressive 11th album in 2008. Two years later, the history-making Berry told CNN: "I think I've spent my adult life dealing with ... low self-esteem. Somehow I felt not worthy."
But working to develop less confidence should not be anyone's goal, self-help experts said. And neither is faking a lack of conviction and courage in hopes of receiving a promotion in return a good idea.
Deborah Brown-Volkman, president of Surpass Your Dreams, a global career and life coaching company, doubts there is a direct correlation between being insecure and becoming prosperous. Instead, their willingness to take direction and do whatever work is put before them likely results in their getting a wealth of experience that their more assertive peers may not receive.
"If you don't believe in yourself, people aren't going to be attracted to you and confidence brings opportunity," she said. "But it could work because the more people ask you to do things and you just do it without talking or fighting back, the more work you're given and, as a result, you probably become very invaluable. So, you're liked, you get to do things you normally wouldn't, you're rewarded. And that's the experience you end up gaining confidence from."
But faking a lack of confidence in hopes of being rewarded won't work either, experts said.
"Urging someone to appear less confident is like teaching them to shake hands like a jellyfish," said Karen Friedman, author of "Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners." "That's not the person you want to lead a team."
Interestingly, recent studies have shown that who lacks confidence—and why they do—can vary greatly.
In January, the Ethics Resource Center revealed that the lingering recession had effected the self-assurance of both businesses and employees—53 percent of workers believed there was less room for mistakes, while 44 percent of companies said risk-taking was down. Additionally, a new LinkedIn survey showed that, globally, fewer than 26 percent of women feel comfortable negotiating at their job.
But not every unfortunate situation has to be a defining one, said Skip Weisman, an expert in leadership and workplace communication.
"Confidence is contextual," he said. "Just because we're not confident in one area doesn't mean that we aren't in another. Certainly the first component to improving any facet of our life is to be aware of it and recognize it. Anybody can change themselves from being an introvert. Like anything else, you learn strategies, and the more you practice them, the more comfortable and better you get at it. The transition is possible."
Weisman admits, however, that a deep-seated societal lesson has impaired our greater ability to accept compliments.
"We're programmed from childhood not to accept praise very well because then we're 'gloating,'' he said. "But that's a bunch of bull. Most times we deflect it and say, 'It was nothing, no big deal, no problem' and that reinforces our lack of confidence. We have to say, 'Thank you for noticing.' The more you do that, the better you'll feel about the work you do."