What price confidence? ​

“We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears” - François de La Rochefoucauld

Many managers have had the experience of interviewing and hiring someone who came across extremely well, and started the job with great gusto. But then, results start to fluctuate, and to slip in various ways. The reasons for this vary, but the findings of a recent survey carried out in Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK suggest the cause might be more than engagement levels slipping over time due to familiarity and/or boredom with the role.

The survey asked 2000 recipients a series of questions about the link between their own self-confidence, and their level of productivity in the workplace. 

Let’s look at a few of the findings.

Over half (52.5%) of respondent’s state that their level of self-confidence reduces their ability to contribute to their organization always, usually or sometimes. This finding alone clearly suggests there is much room for improved organisational productivity purely through increased individual self-confidence. 

Innovation and creativity are widely accepted as crucial for ongoing business success in the 21st century. Apple currently remains the world’s most valuable company due to its extraordinary ability to innovate. This research suggests that close to half (42.4%) of people have an idea at work, but keep it to themselves, always, usually or sometimes. Over half of respondents (51.3%) state that this is due to low self-confidence always, usually or sometimes. 

This research doesn’t enable putting a dollar estimate next to the lost potential for innovation. But it does suggest that the untapped potential is considerable. Any company looking for increased innovation should surely factor this in to their future plans.

For over half of respondents, the ability to concentrate is negatively affected by an unhappy boss (72% always, usually or sometimes) or colleague (60.9% always, usually or sometimes).

This raises an important question. Do we need to have full emotional control in order to be able to concentrate well enough to get our job done? The answer, suggested by a simple experiment carried out in the US, is yes. 

Perfection is a simple board game. So, simple, its meant for four year olds and above. It consists of putting nine shapes into matching sized holes before the time runs out. As I say, simple!

But the US experiment revealed intriguing results. 80% of participants beat the deadline while being praised. Yet only 20% of participants were successful while being criticized.

When criticised, 80% of us can’t efficiently complete what is essentially a toddlers’ jigsaw puzzle. What else are we no longer capable of, when criticised by a manager or disagreeing with a colleague? And what is the cost to the organisation? This cost is extremely difficult to define and measure, but again, it is clearly an issue in terms of organisational effectiveness.

A surprising 57.3% of respondent’s report keeping quiet about problems at work, rather than dealing directly with them, at least sometimes. What might these ignored problems cost employer organisations?

Over a third (36.3%) report struggling to remain calm in a challenging situation at least sometimes. And nearly a quarter (23.2%) are confident when dealing with non-routine work sometimes, hardly ever or never. Again, what does the resulting reduction in focus and concentration cost the company?

One area that should clearly be of immediate concern to companies is the ability of their people to do business effectively with suppliers and clients/customers. Close to two-thirds of respondents (62.9%) report that they would be able to negotiate better deals if they were more confident at least sometimes. This is a crucial finding. It clearly suggests that all sales and negotiation training and coaching should include a specific focus on self-confidence.

The conclusion from this research concerns diversity. The value that a diverse workforce brings to the bottom line is no longer questioned. In order for a diverse workforce to add that value, staff members must feel comfortable in expressing opinions from their own cultural standpoint. They must feel comfortable “bringing their whole self” to work. The diversity movement has had a high profile in western business for years. Yet 29% of survey respondents state “they feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work” only sometimes, hardly ever or never! While the diversity movement will continue to work to improve this, self-confidence provides another angle of opportunity. Individual self-confidence cuts across culture to offer another way to improve organisational openness and effectiveness.

This new research also suggests low self-confidence cuts into organisational productivity and effectiveness in a more significant way than most managers have been aware. 

Can individual self-confidence be systematically improved? Certainly, but that’s a topic for a future article.

By Kieran Bird

This article is based on the book “Unshakeable Self-Confidence: Why Organisations Should, and How Individuals Can, Develop Higher Self-Confidence”, due to be launched in February 2018.


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