How confident are you?
It’s apparent, from decades of research, that to excel in both the classroom and the boardroom, confidence matters as much as competence. But how does one build confidence?
In a moment, a few tips. But first, some observations from experts.
Observation No. 1: There’s a serious confidence gap
“From elementary school through college,” explains psychologist Lisa Damour, writing for The New York Times, “girls are more disciplined about their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. Girls consistently outperform boys academically.
And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.”
Why is that?
Mina, a fifth-grade teacher in Seattle, weighs in: “When I asked students to self-assess their projects, many boys rated their effort 10/10, including several who hadn’t even done the project. They claimed the ideas they had merited the top score. Not one girl rated herself above a 9, even with stellar outcomes. They told me ‘there’s always room for improvement.’ Most of the kids had a realistic view of their project, but I’ve rarely seen girls be as overconfident in their skills as some boys have demonstrated. I think it’s a reflection of our culture.”
Nature? Or nurture?
In a separate piece for The New York Times, author Jill Filipovic says that “women have been conditioned for acquiescence to authority and male power their whole lives. Men, on the other hand, have been raised to embrace risk-taking and aggression. Girls are taught to protect themselves from predation, and they internalize the message that they are inherently vulnerable.”
Filipovic adds: “Girls are also generally raised to be more emotionally intelligent and verbal than boys. Dads sing to daughters more than sons, and the language they use with their girls is more analytical and emotive, something researchers suspect contributes to girls’ higher achievement in school. This good behavior gives girls an advantage inside the classroom, but it can cost them outside of it later on, especially in high-earning fields like technology that value assertiveness and creativity and entrepreneurial roles that reward risk-taking.”
Observation No. 2: Confidence is part of being competent
Journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of “The Confidence Gap,” maintain that “to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence…Having talent isn’t merely about being competent; confidence is a part of that talent. You have to have it to excel.”
And the workplace implications are clear, they say, noting that “men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do.”
Observation No. 3: Internal attribution can be debilitating
Kay and Shipman cite the “penchant many women have for assuming the blame when things go wrong, while crediting circumstance – or other people – for their successes. (Men seem to do the opposite.)” They quoted David Dunning, a Cornell psychologist, who observed that when grades started to slip in a challenging PhD level course, male students responded by citing how tough the class was. “That’s what’s known as external attribution,” explained Kay and Shipman, “and in a situation like this, it’s usually a healthy sign of resilience. Women tend to respond differently. When the course gets hard, Dunning told us, their reaction is more likely to be ‘You see, I knew I wasn’t good enough.’ That’s internal attribution, and it can be debilitating.”
Observation No. 4: Women shouldn’t be asked to “fix” it
“Ultimately,” says Stephanie Thomson, writing for the Atlantic, “the biggest problem with the confidence-gap theory is that it places the responsibility for closing the gender gap on individual women when the solution might instead lie beyond their control.”
Thomson quotes psychology professor Jessi Smith: “The focus on the confidence gap is troubling as it suggests something is wrong with women, and that we need to ‘fix’ them and have them act more like men…This misplaces the responsibility and the burden.”
Tips on how to build confidence
From author Jack Zenger:
• “Focus on the strengths you possess and your achievements, rather than what you don’t do well. Guard carefully against negative self-talk.”
• “Radiate optimism and general happiness. They bring life and vitality into conversations. Your outward behavior changes your inner
From Kay and Shipman:
• Recognize that “perfectionism is a confidence killer.”
From Kelly Wallace, writing for CNN:
• Take risks. “Confident people get what they want. They take risks. They are not afraid of failure.”