Author Q&A: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Confidence

Our newest columnist shatters the illusions about confidence and reveals why introverted, modest managers are more likely to be successful.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 03 Oct 2013

Confidence - The surprising truth about how much you need and how to get it
Profile Books

1. What inspired you to write Confidence?

All the nonsense written about the subject. Most pop psychology or self-help books deal with confidence. They are responsible for the confidence ‘cult’ which maintains that boosting our confidence will solve all our problems. There are two big problems with this claim: first, it is virtually impossible to deliberately increase one's self-confidence (without distorting reality) and second, there are no genuine benefits of doing that. In fact, deliberate attempts to boost our confidence will almost certainly backfire: when you fail, you feel guilty for failing; when you succeed, you turn into a delusional person. So I wanted to write a book that explains when confidence can be useful, and when it is harmful. The message is fairly provocative because we’re used to embracing high confidence and being ashamed of our insecurities when, in reality, it should be the other way around.

2. Who did you write the book for?

For people who are interested in psychology and the science of success; for people who are interested in the realities rather than the myths about confidence; and for people who are struggling with confidence and have realised that 99 per cent of existing self-help books do nothing for them – they are like any other drug (TV, alcohol, Prozac, or cocaine) in that they provide them with a quick fix or high by helping them escape from reality instead of confronting and solving their problems.

3. What are the three biggest myths about confidence?

1) The higher the better.

2) We should all believe in ourselves, no matter what others think of us.

3) Exceptional achievers (eg: Obama, Muhammad Ali, Madonna, Oprah) owe their success to their confidence.

A society that genuinely believes this is destined to failure.

4. You're about to give a speech to a room full of people. You're shaking in your boots. How do you fake confidence?

If you care about the speech and you know you might fail, you’ll work hard to avoid failure. That will not only minimise the adverse effects of anxiety, but actually help you do better.

Certain cultures (such as Britain) are more likely to reward modesty than confidence, so you are better off pretending to be humble rather than arrogant: apologise, be honest, say you are nervous, and then just get on with it. People will forgive you straight away and they will prefer this to a narcissistic speaker who quite clearly appears to think he is better than everyone else (when in fact s/he is not).

5. In your opinion, which business leaders have the right balance of confidence?

We tend to not hear from them much because they are less attractive to the media than, say, Richard Branson, Bernie Ecclestone or Steven Ballmer. But they represent the majority of successful CEOs and managers; they tend to stay away from the limelight and are more introverted, altruistic, and insecure than the rockstar CEOs we usually worship. In the world of politics, they would look like Angela Merkel rather than Silvio Berlusconi. In the world of football, they would look like Messi rather than Ronaldo. And in any domain, they are more likely to be female than male.

6. You grew up in Argentina, and you live in New York and London. What differences in behaviour do you see? And whereabouts on the confidence grid are you?

Argentina is a country of charming under-achievers and con artists (btw, "con" comes from confidence, and a confidence trick is to pretend you are better than you are). People celebrate the hand of god as a big sporting achievement and people still believe they are in the centre of the universe despite the fact that Argentina is the only country in the world that has been consistently devolving since the 1920s. Britain is almost the reverse: it rewards fake modesty rather than genuine confidence. And the US is so focused on maintaining high levels of confidence that it is counterproductive. Americans are also the biggest global exporters of narcissism.

7. What other interesting projects are you working on at the moment?

Leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, judgment, global mindset, learning agility and emotional intelligence. In all these areas, I try to bridge the gap between academia and practice and develop tools or programmes that help organisations become more effective by improving their selection and management practices.

8. Tell us one thing that no-one else knows about you.

I have a secret crush on Princess Anne.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, and has previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. His book Confidence – the surprising truth about how much you need and how to get it, is published on 7 November.

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