What is confidence and why is it important?

Confidence is often cited as a key attribute required for success. However defining confidence can be difficult, and I think this is because it means different things to different people, based on your experiences, upbringing and beliefs. This post explores what confidence means to the participants of an independent survey I conducted in September 2018 and gives some ideas based on their feedback on how you can increase your own confidence levels.

What is confidence and how do we perceive it in others?

Self-worth, self-belief and self-assurance topped what confidence means to respondents, when asked to identify all attributes they associated with confidence, but, when asked to select just one attribute to capture what confidence meant to them self-belief achieved 49%, self assurance 35% but self-worth was only 2%. Being charismatic, loud or fun were low on the list in terms of what confidence meant to respondents. Posture, energy/vibe and facial expressions topped how respondents perceived confidence in others. The confidence of Michelle Obama was most desirable from the celebrities listed, which also included Dawn French, Beyonce, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Emma Watson, JK Rowling, Amy Cuddy and Ellen DeGeneres.

Why do we want confidence?

There are many benefits perceived in having more confidence from: -

  • stopping the fear of judgement from others

  • valuing your own opinions and beliefs

  • fully showing up as your true, authentic self

  • doing things that currently scare you

  • communicating better with colleagues, friends and family

  • taking more action

  • being happier

  • making better decisions.

When asked to select just one reason why confidence would improve their life and career, being happier topped the poll for respondents identifying as female, with fully showing up as your true, authentic self and stopping the fear of judgement from others coming in as joint second. For respondents identifying as male, showing up as your true, authentic self and stopping the fear of judgement from others came in first and second place respectively.

63% of respondents thought lacking confidence had a negative impact on their career. But is confidence the thing we want to change in our careers? Not necessarily according to respondents! It came in third on the poll with 30% saying they would want to increase their confidence, but 44% said they wanted to feel they are good enough and 37% want to change their salary. When asked to select just one thing they would change about their career, confidence dropped to being important to just 5% of respondents, with no women in the survey selecting it. In comparison, the work they do had the biggest significance with 24% of respondents selecting this as the change they would make in their career, followed by the feeling that they are good enough (17% of respondents), with salary coming in 3rd (14% of respondents selected this).

Only 12.5% of respondents felt very confident already within their careers, but a massive 81.4% of respondents wanted to be very confident. Out of the respondents who identified as being female, only 9% felt very confident, compared to 29% of respondents who identified as being male. However, 29% of men identified as being very unconfident, compared to only 3% of women. Age wasn’t a determining factor as those identifying as very confident or very unconfident were evenly distributed across all age groups.


How do we increase confidence?

According to this research, reducing self criticism, identifying acknowledging, appreciating and developing strengths, and being assertive and learning to say ‘no’ were cited as the top 3 ways to improve confidence.

1. Quiet the self-doubt

A way to reduce self criticism is to catch the extremes you say to yourself and ask yourself for evidence. Do you hear yourself saying things like “I am always late”, “I could never do that”, “All my efforts go to waste”?

Now ask ‘Is that really true?’ Have you got an example of when you were on time? At least once did you make a doctors appointment/school pick up/drop off/catch up with a friend on time? Have you achieved something in your life? Can you drive, use a computer, walk, talk, read? I bet when you started it didn’t seem possible but you did it. Has there never been a time when your efforts were recognised? You only need to have achieved something once to be able to smash through your extreme thinking.

You can now change this self-doubt talk to something that is more empowering. For example, “I am a busy person and am making an effort to be on time for important meetings”; “This task is challenging, but I have overcome bigger obstacles so know I have the ability to achieve this too”; “Sometimes people may not recognise my efforts but I do. I know I am making a difference and what I am doing is important.”

2. Identify, acknowledge, appreciate and develop your strengths

What are you good at? What have others complimented you on? What have you been told in your annual reviews?

You often dismiss the positives and focus on what you feel you need to improve on. You may downplay what you are good at, thinking that if you are good at it, everyone else must be as well. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that you are also good at this. It is the combination of things you are good at, and your own style that make you unique. Yes, you may have amazing organisational skills, as do other people, but you also are great at putting together PowerPoint presentations, and have a way of putting people at ease. Or maybe you are great at giving presentations, as are others, but it is the fact that you have a very structured approach that means you keep the audience focused and understanding the key messages that makes you different to other people.

We are all unique, yet we seem to spend our lives striving to be like everyone else. We focus on the things to improve, but these are often things that the person giving the message is good at, so is relatable to them. It isn’t to say you should dismiss constructive criticism, and there is always room for improvement, but, maybe balance your energies on developing your strengths rather than just working on an area that isn’t as natural to you, so you try to make yourself mediocre in that area to ‘fit in’.

3. Be assertive and learn to say ‘no’

This can be tricky. What if it is your boss asking? What if you are seen as negative? Everyone wants a ‘can-do’ attitude - surely this is going against this? Like with any skill, this takes practice, but can be delivered in a positive way. Value your time and yourself as a resource. Maybe instead of ‘no’ it is learning to say ‘not now’.

Turn this around; if you went to someone and asked for something and they said they were working on another piece of work but could get it to you by the end of the week how would you feel? If this fitted in with your timescales, I’m guessing you would be okay with this. If not, you would escalate - working with them or their manager to understand the other priorities on their time, and finding a different solution - could someone else help? Could you take something from them to free them up to do what you need them to do? Could you renegotiate your deadline? Do you need all the information now, or could you do with one part, and then have the rest at a later date? All these solutions are having a ‘can-do’ attitude. You are trying to find a solution whilst also protecting yourself. You are not being negative, you are solution focused and working to drive a satisfactory conclusion for all. You have rights in this negotiation. Sometimes you may be told to ‘just do it’ but you have stated your case, you are less likely to feel like a martyr. You will know you stood up for yourself and even though the ‘no’ may not always feel heard, you are saying it, and being assertive.


Confidence is an important attribute linked to career success for many reasons ranging from improving communication and decision making skills, to being comfortable enough to show up as your true, authentic self, having faith in your opinions, and not fearing judgement from others. It does mean different things to different people but there is also the general feeling that individuals don’t have confidence currently, whatever that means to them, but they do want ways to improve their self confidence. This paper has given suggestions that you can implement based around the top 3 reasons stated by respondents as to how they believe they could increase their confidence levels. Doing these exercises, and continuing to constantly check in on your thoughts, feelings and actions to keep making progress will mean your confidence can grow over time.

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