The Confidence/Competence Tangle

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“As women, we often wait until we’re competent before we feel confident, whereas men often feel confident before they’ve achieved full competence,” said Michelle Shepard, founder of the Women in Real Life (WiRL) leadership summit.

In business, confidence plays a huge role in getting ahead. Hiring decisions, promotions, meetings … all put a businessperson’s confidence on display. When someone projects confidence, we assume they know what they’re doing. We trust them. And, in a situation where you’re forced to choose between unknowns, this is an easy way to separate them.

It’s much harder to judge competence. It takes longer. You need more expertise, information, and time.

So competence and confidence can be hard to untangle. Now add in a male-female perspective difference. A man might perceive a woman’s humility as a lack of confidence, whereas another woman might judge that same humility as honesty.

In an article by Bruce Kasanoff for Forbes, he points out the problem with this difference in perception: “In the senior management ranks of most organizations, men significantly outnumber women.” This puts the judgments for these top positions in the hands of men.

In looking at each particular situation, it might be valuable to consider who’s judging your work. Your confidence needs to be ready when you need it.

Confidence understandably plays a huge role in interviewing and hiring. An objective, highly structured process could help eliminate some of the bias. But, in some cases, the new hire will be part of an existing team, so more than competence is being judged.

Confidence also plays a part in meetings. Assertive, self-assured people stand out in meetings. Although the loudest sometimes get the upper hand, if it’s a group of business associates, competence has usually been established, so it’s just a matter of speaking up.

Confidence is also helpful in moving up the corporate ladder. Competent, confident people do good work and make sure it’s seen. They put their hat in the ring for advancement opportunities, because they feel ready for a challenge. They’re more visible.

Real confidence can be developed. It takes focus and a decision to make a change.

Starting could be as simple as reviewing your accomplishments, then setting up a quick meeting with your boss to talk about your work, your goals, and where you’d like to be. Once that door is open, make steady work on that relationship. Get excited about your accomplishments. Talk through your ideas. Make suggestions. Communicate.


You don’t have to be loud to be confident.

You don’t have to be confrontational to be confident.

Let go of some of your humility. Toot your own horn. You are competent. You have the information. Speak up.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.