Why having confidence isn't always good for you - Michelle Gibbings

It’s often thought that to be successful you have to be confident.

However, it’s not that black and white.  In fact, too much confidence is a bad thing.

Why?  Because when you are certain you are right, you are almost certainly wrong!

Over-confidence is one of the many brain based biases we are all afflicted with.  It’s when we believe that our judgement or the decisions we make are more accurate and reliable than they actually are.

This has been scientifically tested in a number of ways.  The typical way to do it is to ask people a question to which they need to provide an answer.  They are then asked how confident they are that the answer they provided is correct.

What the research shows is that the confidence that we’ve provided the right answer doesn’t match up with whether the answer is right or not.   What that means is that we can confidently believe that our answer is right, when in fact it’s wrong.

We are more sure and more certain of our answers, beliefs, abilities and decisions than is warranted.

It gets even more interesting.

Further research shows there’s a correlation between over confidence and hierarchy.  That is, the more senior you are in an organisation, the more confident you are of your abilities.

So whilst the bias affects all of us, it can affect leaders more than others.

The danger of course is that if you are confident that your opinion or decision is the only way to go you close yourself off to ideas and perspectives that should be considered.

This opens you up to poor and inadequate decision making.

It was Mark Twain who wrote – All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure.

I hope he’s wrong.  

In a world of constant change where there are many unknowns, we need leaders who are able to step up to this challenge, whilst accepting the fact that it’s impossible to have all the answers.

We need debate and discourse.  Not myopic and unchallenged decision making.

Daniel Kahneman wrote about over-confidence bias in his brilliant book Thinking, Fast and Slow 

He considers it one of the most challenging of our biases to overcome.  He said: “It is built so deeply into the structure of the mind that you couldn’t change it without changing many other things”.

So if it so difficult to avoid what do we do?

The first step is awareness.  Awareness that we all fall into this trap.  And that means we need to be open to being challenged.  We need to consciously embrace different ideas.

We need to encourage debate and even, dissent.  The person who doesn’t agree with you may be the person who has a piece of the puzzle that is missing.

Let the debate begin!

Change happens.  Make it work for you.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’.  For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.

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