3 secretly good things about low confidence


Low confidence can be the shameful secret we try to hide in the workplace. Like a shackle around our ankles, it holds us back and hinders our ability to perform at our best. If you have low confidence, you’ll often allow it to prevent you putting yourself forward — and you might even allow it to internalize a sense that you lack confidence means lacking competence. But just as lifting weight builds strength in our muscles, low confidence actually builds strength in our competence.

The hidden attributes of low confidence

  1. Being careful prevents errors

In research conducted at University College London, women who were given testosterone (which made them bold, more confident and more inclined to take risks) were found to be less able to collaborate and were wrong more often.[1]

  1. Uncertainty supports quality outcomes

When you feel certain, you are less likely to check your thinking or seek input or feedback from others. Being unsure increases the likelihood of being open to new ideas, seeking more information and including the input of others. All these actions create a better result.

  1. Low confidence can confirm high competence

When we’re good at things that others find typically hard, we can underestimate our ability.[2] As a result, when faced with a difficult task, which you happen to be good at, it’s easy to underestimate your ability and lack confidence to perform. Counter intuitively, if you think you’re not competent, you’re probably more competent than you think.

Three steps to harness the upside of low confidence

The key to harnessing the power and perspective of low confidence is to know when it’s working for you and when it’s working against you.

Next time you lack the confidence to act, do these three things:

  1. Pause – Become aware of your default behaviours. Notice if you are holding back out of habit. Is this a pattern for you in this context?
  2. Review – Is holding back and playing safe going to support you or sabotage you right now? Get clear on the consequences of the low confidence.
  3. Choose – Make a conscious decision to act boldly and move forward or put the brakes on and act with caution.

Over time, you’ll learn to distinguish between the lack of confidence that encourages you to take more care, make a stronger decision and listen to your intuition, and the lack of confidence that simply stops you from being brilliant.

[1] Kay, K., & Shipman, C. (2014) Retreived July 13, 2016, from The Atlantic

[2] Kruger, J. (1999, August). Lake Wobegon be gone! The “below-average effect” and the egocentric nature of comparative ability judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  221-32.

About Anneli Blundell

As a communication expert (a.k.a. professional People Whisperer), Anneli Blundell coaches senior women to increase their visibility, confidence and personal power for greater professional impact and is often invited to speak on Credible Communication for women. Anneli is also co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders, a leader’s practical guide for developing performance at work.

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