The tipping point of overconfidence

snobOne of the traits of leaders that make people want to follow them is that they exude confidence. They seem sure of themselves as if they know their way around and have a plan for where they are going. One of the traits that people dislike about their bosses is that they seem too sure of themselves. According to 2014 Gallup poll, about 50% of employees are disengaged or really don’t care for their jobs, and about 18% actually hate their work.[1] The most frequently cited complaint is a narcissistic boss.

Do we applaud the person who speaks boldly in front of a large group, or while being interviewed, and then turn around and complain about someone who speaks with the same boldness that works next to us? Many of us do. Why is confidence appealing in a person seen from the distance, while the same trait is an irritation in a person that we know well?

Most of us have a set of criteria for who has a right to be confident and who does not. Some of this is based on the person’s competence (actually being able to do what they say they can do). Competence can really only be judged in someone that we observe on a regular basis, and even then our perception may not be accurate. So we fall back on evaluating the right to be confident based on other superficial traits that don’t require effort to detect.

It is curious that researches attempting to deal with overconfidence through providing warnings prior to a difficult task or immediate feedback find that overconfidence is a hard habit to break.[2] One of the things that leads to confidence is receiving positive feedback. The logical conclusion would be that the groups of people who are overconfident, gain something from being so. The majority of society that they come in contact with, finds their traits or physical characteristics to be linked with their conception of competence. Even those most people have no clue about the other person’s real level of competence are willing to reward them for showing unwarranted confidence.

So who shows up as over confident in research studies? Researchers find the following groups tend to lack well-calibrated judgments? People who are males[3] [4], extroverts[5], in an optimistic mood[6] or are good self-deception[7]. It looks like more than half of humanity has more confidence in their decision making than the accuracy of their decisions actually indicates. What do we find so attractive about overconfidence that we admire it, until we actually have to live with it?

[2] Pulford, B. D., & Colman, A. M. (1997). Overconfidence: Feedback and item difficulty effects. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 125-133
[3] Pulford, B. D., & Colman, A. M. (1997). Overconfidence: Feedback and item difficulty effects. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 125-133
[4] Barber B, Odean T. Boys will be boys: Gender, overconfidence, and common stock investment. Quart J Econ. 2001; 116: 261–292. doi: 10.1162/003355301556400
[5] Schaefer P, Williams C, Goodie A, Campbell WK. Overconfidence and the Big Five. J Res Person. 2004; 38: 473–480. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2003.09.010
[6] Koellinger P, Treffers T (2015) Joy Leads to Overconfidence, and a Simple Countermeasure. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143263. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143263
[7] Lamba S, Nityananda V (2014) Self-Deceived Individuals Are Better at Deceiving Others. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104562
This entry was posted in Gender differences, Leadership, Manipulation, Optimism. Bookmark the permalink.

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