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Self-Confidence in Theory and Practice

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Self-confidence is sometimes used as a synonym for self-efficacy, which is the belief that one can accomplish one’s goals. However, self-confidence is a more general term. As self-efficacy researcher Albert Bandura states in one of his books: “I can be supremely confident that I will fail…” Therefore, self-confidence has to be looked at in context.


Self-Confidence in Theory

Psychologists have looked at various causes and effects of self-confidence. The Terror Management Theory suggests we need self-confidence to view the world as a positive, less-threatening place. We adopt views of other people that reinforce our superiority and protect us from feeling that our lives weren’t worth living.

The Sociometer Theory suggests that our self-confidence flows in direct relation to how we think other people perceive and value us. Among the groups that have the greatest influence on us are our communities, teams, mates, relations, and friends.


Self-Confidence in the Workplace

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.

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

You confidence will spill over to others, as you demonstrate a commitment to positivity and optimism.


Self-Confidence in Relation to Others

Self-confidence in relation to others is cyclical: the more confident you feel, the more others will show confidence in you, and the more your confidence will soar. If you doubt yourself, so will everyone else.

For example, if leadership is new to you and something you are “confident” you will fail at, your team will pick up on your uncertainty and hesitation and feel they have to take up the slake themselves, confirming your sense of failure. If, instead, you project confidence in your leadership—even if you have to fake that confidence—you will boost the team’s confidence in your abilities, which will allow you to function as a better leader.


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 ability. Misjudging or rejecting information enabled the students to preserve their level self-confidence. That lack of good information negatively affected decision-making; poor decisions have the potential to negatively affect self-confidence. 

To prevent over-confidence and unnecessary risk taking:

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

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