Because overconfidence is actually a marker for success
During a performance review at work, I was once asked to evaluate myself. Naturally, I gave myself the highest marks in all categories. I’m great at what I do, and I see no reason to show false humility. My male boss questioned me on my self-appraisal, and I said without irony, “I’m not short on confidence.”
In the workplace, I’m not short on confidence. But it doesn’t mean that I’m immune to this incredible—and incredibly WEIRD—issue nearly all women face: perfectionism. In the recent Atlantic article “The Confidence Gap,” authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write:
Perfectionism is another confidence killer. Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.
This lack of confidence to take risks affects women in the workplace, at home, and socially.
The solution may be overconfidence.
We all know an overconfident person, the Kanye to our T-Swift. But did you know that research shows that even if we dislike these people, we believe they are more capable? A Berkeley paper shows that overconfidence increases one’s status. Subjects who overestimated their abilities at group tasks were more respected and influential in the group. Confidence is a proxy for competence — if you speak firmly, it sounds like you know what you’re talking about (my family calls this “Myska-isms”). People who showed more confidence, regardless of their actual ability, were judged to be more capable and accorded more regard by their peers.
New York mag explores this idea in “It Pays to Be Overconfident”:
The paper also reveals two factors that may buoy the status of the obviously overconfident against the weight of censure: greater confidence leads to greater peer-rated social skill and greater peer-rated task ability, regardless of actual ability. The researchers suspect that confidence increases leadership-like behavior, such as talkativeness and active engagement, and also reduces anxiety, which allows for more fluid interaction, and that these behaviors may make one seem more socially skilled. As for the effect of confidence on perceived ability even after actual ability has been reported, the authors note the lasting power of first impressions have been long known to disproportionately affect our judgments of others. All of this suggests that even when we’re unmasked as less skilled than our self-assured manner would suggest, there are ancillary social benefits to overconfidence.
Back to the Atlantic article, which cites the same research, I can’t say it much better than this: “The advice implicit in such findings is hardly unfamiliar: to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”
Check out authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know.