Self-confidence is trust in yourself, your abilities, and your judgment. One set of experiments by Zachary Estes and Sydney Felker compared the accuracy of men and women. It showed that “confident people, regardless of their gender, tended to be more accurate.” The factors influencing self-confidence include:

What you are already good at. If you are free to choose between tasks, you are more likely to choose the task where you have the greatest confidence that you will succeed—a tendency born out of multiple experiments.
What makes you feel good. The Terror Management Theory suggests people need the self-confidence to view the world as a positive, less-threatening place. You take on tasks that reinforce your self-esteem and protect you from feeling useless.
What other people think of you. The Sociometer Theory suggests that your self-confidence ebbs and flows directly to how you think other people perceive and value you. Among the groups that may influence you most are your communities, team members, family, and friends.

What all these theories agree that self-confidence affects not only how well we do but what we choose to do in the first place. When you are considering your leadership abilities, for example, it doesn’t matter much if your self-confidence stems from self-protection, the judgment of others, or some other factor. If your confidence in your leadership ability is low, you will probably fail at and avoid leadership opportunities, thereby confirming your low self-confidence.

Self-confidence in the Workplace

One of the hallmarks of stress is a drop in self-confidence when defined as your ability to change what is causing the stress and trust in your judgment. When a project, relationship, or team starts to go wrong, you may feel a loss of control and assume you are the wrong person to bring it back on track.

When a project, relationship, or team goes right, your self-confidence boosts and you are more likely to take action and make decisions that increase the possibility of success. Again, confidence in your ability to make the “right” decision or take the “right” action increases your chances of doing so successfully now and in the future.

Advocates for increasing self-confidence in the workplace recommend boosting knowledge and skills through training or education, practicing tasks or roles where you lack self-confidence, and eliminating negative thoughts and language (for example, “I can’t do that”), focusing instead on how you might achieve a change. Practical steps include:

Identifying alternatives. If you become stuck on one problem-solving method, you will eventually encounter a problem that resists that solution. Be wary of becoming so confident in your ability that you cease to encourage or listen to outside advice.
Suspending judgment. If you judge a task as too hard or intractable before you undertake it, you will hamper yourself from trying. You may need to write down what you see as your weaknesses and strengths to get a better handle on how training and education might help you and where your self-assessment is at odds with reality.
Evaluating objectively. Every experience, whether successful or not, has lessons to teach. If you view your actions and decisions as learning experiences rather than judgments of your abilities and intelligence, you will gain self-confidence with each task or situation you confront. Changing your level of self-confidence is easier if you course correct based on experience.

You should also track your successes, keeping a brag book that you can refer to boost self-confidence and rely on when discussing raises or searching for a new job.

Self-Confidence versus Over-Confidence

One of the drawbacks of acting as if you have confidence is the tendency to overact. Self-confidence can easily morph into arrogance if it closes you off to opportunities to grow and participate. It can also lead to risk-taking that does more to boost self-confidence than to solve a problem or reach a goal.

A study of 656 undergraduate students found a correlation between confidence and a willingness to accept information about their abilities. While refusing negative feedback bolstered the students’ self-confidence in the short term, the lack of good information negatively affected their decision-making ability. It lowered their self-confidence in the long term.

To prevent over-confidence and unnecessary risk-taking:

  • Know your subject before you speak.
  • Plan and assess risk before you suggest actions or solutions.
  • Welcome to the discussion of your contribution.
  • Build strong relationships before you need them.
  • Learn from failure and feedback.

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