Reproduced with thanks from The Daily Telegraph 15 August 2012
Confidence is key to success, but don’t trip on your ego
By Hannah Furness
THE secret to career success is not talent, hard work or education, but sheer, unashamed confidence, a study has suggested.
Although workers with big egos will often perform poorly and make more mistakes, their colleagues consistently fail to spot their errors and continue to believed they are “terrific” or “beloved”.
Their personality means they are often promoted over those who are more competent, as colleagues mistake their confidence for talent.
A study of more than 500 students, academics and workers, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers.
Within a work environment, higher-status individuals tended to be more admired, listened to, and had more sway over group decisions.
Prof Cameron Anderson of the University of California, who led the research, said that, as a result, “incompetent people are often promoted over their more competent peers”. He said those who were overconfident often sought power, fame or success and that overconfidence was encouraged by the prospect of increased social status, respect and esteem.
“Our studies found overconfidence helped people attain social status,” he said. “Those who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder, and the motivation to attain higher social status therefore triggered overconfidence.”
The researchers found that many of their subjects believed sincerely that they were more physically talented, socially adept and skilled at their jobs than reality reflected. In one study, 94 per cent of college professors were found to believe that their work was above average.
Prof Anderson said: “In organisations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified. Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight.”
In a series of six experiments, the researchers found evidence that companies should be sceptical of individuals’ confidence. In one test, they found overconfident individuals talked more and participated more extensively in group tasks, even when they were less competent.
In another experiment, a general knowledge test, those who made loud claims to know the right answers were held in highest regard, even when they got the answers wrong.
Prof Anderson, of the university’s Berkeley Haas School of Business, said: “Group members did not think of their high status peers as overconfident, but simply that they were terrific.”
Two final studies found it was the desire for status that encouraged people to be overconfident.
The study, entitled A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence, concluded: “The individuals among us who are elevated to positions of status wield undue influence, have access to more resources, get better information, and enjoy a variety of benefits.
“Although we may seek to choose wisely, we are often forced to rely on proxies for ability, such as individuals’ confidence. In so doing we, as a society, create incentives for those who would seek status to display more confidence than their actual ability merits.”