Over Christmas I was unfortunate enough to sit through the movie What Women Want, which told the tale of a chauvinistic man who gained the ability to read the minds of women. As a movie it was pretty awful and shockingly full of cliches. Thankfully, a new book, called The Confidence Code: The Science an Art of Self-Assurance, by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay is slightly more enlightening.
Recently they spoke with Wharton’s Adam Grant about the book and what they hoped it would provide women in the workplace. The authors reveal that motivation for the book came from many conversations with female leaders over the years, whereby the women would suggest they were lucky or fortunate to have achieved the success they had. They were the kind of conversations they never really had with male leaders.
Thus, they set out to explore what was causing this apparent lack of confidence in ones abilities. After all, there was no such lack of confidence in other aspects of the womens lives. They were perfectly happy as wives and mothers, but much less so professionally. They go on to suggest that data backs up their hypothesis, with men typically over-estimating their abilities and women tending to under-estimate them.
The confidence gap
So the authors went about exploring where confidence tends to come from. Inevitably, their conversations with scientists would reveal that confidence is rather complex to pin down. The best definition they found came from Richard Petty, a psychologist from Ohio State University, who said that confidence was when thoughts are turned into actions. It’s when you have a belief that you can do well at something and the courage to go ahead and give it a go.
Interestingly, they suggest that even if your attempt fails, you still gain in confidence from having a go. They suggest that failure is seldom life shattering, and the more you put yourself forward, the more likely it is you’ll eventually succeed.
It is this conversion of desire into action that the authors believe often seperates men from women, because women are often more risk averse than their male peers. They suggest this is often because of the intense amount of thinking that many women do, about each and every little thing. Indeed, a central point of the book is to encourage women to think a bit less and not dwell on things that went wrong.
Over confidence vs. under confidence
They suggest that a little bit of over confidence is generally speaking a good thing, with most psychologists believing that it’s better to be a bit over confident than it is to be under confident. It’s especially important for women as it may be providing a barrier to action and on helping them to achieve the next level in their careers.
Have a look at the video and see what you think. If you’re a woman, I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether you can relate to their insights with your own career.