Many aspiring professionals have been told that projecting impenetrable self-confidence is the key to success. In business, we’re warned that giving off even the slightest air of uncertainty is a sign of weakness and a signal to the sharks in our chosen field that we can be undermined or overthrown. But the Harvard Business Review has other ideas. In a recent article, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., asserted that a lower self-confidence level, rather than an extremely high one, may increase your chances for success in the workplace.

He asserts that low self-confidence makes you more open to constructive criticism, increases the chances you’ll work harder and prepare more, and decreases the likelihood you’ll come across as “arrogant or deluded” about your abilities and worth within a company.

There are, of course, caveats to this kind of reasoning:

Low self-confidence may turn you into a pessimist, but when pessimism teams up with ambition it often produces outstanding performance. To be the very best at anything, you will need to be your harshest critic, and that is almost impossible when your starting point is high self-confidence.  Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence, but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence. Indeed, success is the best medicine for your insecurities.

Chamorro-Premuzic further argues that low self-confidence may make you a fairer, less self-absorbed person:

Indeed, people with low self-confidence are more likely to admit their mistakes — instead of blaming others — and rarely take credit for others’ accomplishments. This is arguably the most important benefit of low self-confidence because it points to the fact that low self-confidence can bring success, not just to individuals, but also to organizations and society.

It’s noteworthy to mention that the article stresses that extremely low confidence benefits no one. A confidence level that is realistic for your experience and accomplishments and keeps in perspective the various areas in which there’s still room for improvement is key.

What do you think? Could lowering a super-high level of confidence be beneficial for future success? Could this principle also be applied to one’s personal life?

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  • Mademoiselle

    “Low confidence” and “pessimism” usually allude “ambition.” I’m having a hard time making the connection Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has made. Pessimism/low confidence are usually the main perpetrators standing in the way of someone’s ambition.

  • S.

    Why not just get rid of all the unnecessary fluff and just say that “ambition” and “constructive criticism” can make a person more successful???

    These attributes are not exclusive to people who are “less confident”. What a reaching conclusion

    • JC

      You need a paradoxical or controversial hook to grab the reader.

  • Mademoiselle

    *elude, not allude

  • Right as Rain

    If less confidence can lead to greater success, I should be swimming in it (success).

  • I think being flexible and realistic rather than less confident is a better recipe for success. You’re more likely to accept constructive criticism when you’re flexible with your expectations.