Confidence cues?
October 6, 2006 8:48 AM   Subscribe

How can you tell when someone is confident?

That is, someone who is comfortable in their skin, someone who can have a differing opinion from someone else, but doesn't make it personal, etc.

I've encountered people like this, and I'm wondering what the cues into these qualities are? Stance, eye contact? Use of first names, focus, positivity?

And how does over-confidence display itself? Is there a fine line between the two or not?

Inspired by ortogonality's question.
posted by lucyleaf to Human Relations (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I've always found that true confidence is shown by willingness to take risk with personal resources such as money, reputation, or job security.

Over confidence is when your risk reward ratio is out of whack. When you are willing to risk more than being right is worth.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:51 AM on October 6, 2006

You can talk to actors who adopt certain physical behaviors in order to project confidence. But in my opinion (and experience) the truth is something much less tangible. There are nebbishy dorks who are obviously very confident people. I've also known confident people who slouch, don't make eye contact, stutter, or don't shower as often as they should. It's more about knowing who you are, and being comfortable with that. Regardless of how polished your look is or how firmly you shake someone's hand, if you don't buy it yourself, deep down, there are going to be people who can tell (although there will also be less perceptive people who can't).
posted by bingo at 9:02 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always been fascinated by people who, as bingo said, don't display a 'confident air,' but are rockhard people who stand by their beliefs and actions.

Likewise, I've seen many people who display those confident airs, but run at the first hint of trouble. For some reason a lot of sales people fall into this category.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2006

For some reason a lot of sales people fall into this category.

I think that this is because a lot of people like that are taught to project confidence but really are not actually confident people. Big difference. Although in life, sometimes pretending is a first step to being.
posted by spicynuts at 9:51 AM on October 6, 2006

I've always admired people who have the confidence to wear unusual, attention-grabbing clothing. I think I was in high school when I figured out it's not that the outfit itself is necessarily fashionable or cool; it's cool because the person has the balls to wear it in public without caring what other people think.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2006

I disagree with bingo- there are very few people I've met who are confident who don't "act" that way. My fiancee is an actor, so I hear about this all the time. Some visual cues of confident people:

- They make steady eye contact. They don't blink excessively.
- They're not afraid of coming into your personal space/touch you when making a point. They also don't instinctively flinch when you do the same.
- They don't fidget, esp. with their hands.
- They are comfortable with silence. They don't natter on endlessly, but instead say what they have to say, and then cede control of the conversation back to you.
posted by mkultra at 10:10 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

mkultra and I may be in very different cultural spaces here (although we are both physically in New York, apparently). If someone enters my personal space and touches me in order to make a point, and I don't want to have sex with them, then they had better be a very close friend or family member. Maybe it's because I'm from the midwest, where people have more personal space generally than they do here, but I consider that disrespectful, and a strong sign of social ineptitude (neither of which, I admit, are necessarily signs of a lack of confidence...they just probably aren't things you want people thinking about you).

As far as eye contact, some people find it distracting to look into other people's eyes while they talk (and I admit I can be one of those people). I start thinking about the color of the eyes, or that person's personality in general, or speculating about exactly what they're thinking at that moment. And none of those things are bad, but sometimes I have some complex thoughts that I need to get articulated, and it doesn't matter what the other person is thinking, or what color their eyes are, so I look at something else. And as far as fidgeting...well, I have ADHD, and so do a lot of other people. It's not an excuse, since I don't feel bad about it, it's just an explanation. During periods when I was medicated and fidgeted less, I was no more confident than I am now.

Then, there are times when I'm dealing with people who I know think like mkultra, and I need for them to believe that I'm confident, so I go through the motions of giving all the cues; I make eye contact, I don't fidget, etc. And it usually works. I'm the same person, I'm just 'acting confident.' I consider myself to be reasonably confident already, so obeying those rules on purpose is just jumping through so many hoops.

The character Toby Ziegler, on The West Wing, is a good example of what I'm talking about (and identify with). He fidgets, he looks away, he pauses to wince in the middle of his own sentences. And yes, he annoys some people. But he also stone-cold knows what he's talking about. (The flashback episode in which he's running Bartlett's first presidential campaign has a great scene in which this 'discrepancy' is a major issue.)
posted by bingo at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2006

Confidence for me stems from a feeling of control, that I know the answers and have them down well enough to explain them in detail to someone else—and if I can't explain them, then I can at least refer them to someone/something that can, or I can look them up in the right place.

Physically, this knowledge manifests itself in a relaxed way of holding my body—think kicking-my-feet-up-with-my-arms-behind-my-head kind of relaxed, only all the time, even when I'm standing. It's a holdover from when I was in school and I'd kind of hold back from class discussion in a certain way, actively listening until I heard something I wanted to comment on. It's a poised and ready kind of relaxation—relaxed until I jump in for the kill, so to speak.

In terms of speaking, it makes me articulate in a way that I may not be in other circumstances—I become willing to delve into a more theoretical line of thinking ("Can we get this from our supplier? Well, it depends on X, Y, and Z factors. Let me tell you a little about this while I look it up.") while talking to you that I might not otherwise, because I feel like I can handle any questions or tangents that might result from talking along those lines. I won't take the easy way out conversationally.

And I listen in a more active way when I know the subject matter you're likely to be talking about and can anticipate your train of thought. I might jump in and echo something you say, or finish the end of your sentence. I'll be able to better mirror your mood and thus have an easier time communicating with you.

When I'm not feeling confident, I'm more likely to give you an unsatisfactory answer when you ask me a question, or become antagonistic if you continue questioning me, rather than working through the problem. It's not that I mean to be that way—but when I'm feeling self-doubt, it often feels like questions that I can't answer right away are tests that I'm failing, and I'll often end up projecting a negative attribution on your speech.
posted by limeonaire at 11:30 AM on October 6, 2006

As for overconfidence, I find that people who are overconfident are often dismissive of suggestions, assuming that they can do whatever it is unaided, without your suggestions, thankyouverymuch.
posted by limeonaire at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2006

I would read this article at damn interesting. I think it explains a lot of your question.
posted by Eekacat at 12:17 PM on October 6, 2006

Read John Molloy's "Live for Success." The "upper class" body language and verbal habits he delineates are essentially the cues for self-confidence.
posted by kindall at 1:10 PM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Pysch studies claim that women say they are attracted to "confidfent" men, but the pyschs studying the interactions claim the men called labelled "confident" by teh women are in fact "arrogant". So in dating/wpickup situations, appearing confident may mean acting arrogant.

But a cute little blonde thing like you probably wouldn't undertstand all that complicated scientific talk, so let's just go back to my place babe. ;) (Disclaimer: orthogonality does not know if lucyleaf is female, cute, little, or blonde, and expects she understands the above.)
posted by orthogonality at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2006

How can you tell when someone is confident?

I know a few very self-assured, confident people. This is what I see:

They are kind. They treat everyone with the same kindness and respect. They hold their head up, make eye-contact, and aren't afraid to ask questions. They are geniunely interested in your answers. They are good conversationalists. They have a knack of making you feel good about yourself. They have a life. They aren't concerned with impressing people, but live their life for themselves. They are very positive people. They don't engage in gossip, and never seem to utter a negative sentence. They aren't loud. They are very polite. They seem to remember everybody's name. They are willing to help out or give advice when warranted. They have an easy-going manner. They aren't afraid to speak up, or be in the center of a room, but they are never show-off's. They care about their health and their well being. They put themselves first. They can take a compliment. They have a very polished, attractive appearance that seems to be effortless.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:41 PM on October 6, 2006 [4 favorites]

I think everyone has insecurities with areas of their life, and so while may be less than confident in their social interactions, are supremely confident in their abilities or other aspect of their life. Having confidence in an area of your life is something that I believe comes from your core beliefs about yourself - your interior programming from input started when you were in your earliest stages. But besides the environmental component, there is probably a genetic component too...something like the phenomenon of a "natural born leader". It is a fascinating topic though.

What LoriFLA said does ring true about people who have confidence with social interaction. When a person isn't insecure about their sense of self, they are able to direct focus outward instead of putting their energy into worrying how others will percieve them. Whats at the core of that kind of confidence is the crux of this question in my mind.
posted by Kensational at 7:05 PM on October 6, 2006

They can take a compliment. Thanks LoriFLA !

Seriously though, as a person who other people have on occasion deemed as confident (socially speaking, primarily), I have often wondered why I have always felt at ease around other people and have had no problem conveying as much. Perhaps it stems from my childhood, as I've grown more confident throughout my life and the same can be said of several of my siblings. I do recall many times while growing up, our parents telling us two important things:

1) Don't ever think you're better than anyone else.
2) Don't ever think that anyone else is better than you.

Now, when you're a kid, things like that probably don't sink in immediately, but I do think it affects how you start to view other people as you mature. I remember reminding myself as I ventured out into the world.... 'Don't think you're better than that homeless person on the street' ..while at the same time saying, 'don't be intimidated by that millionaire or his cronies' and always 'treat everyone with respect... as you do not know their story', (at least without a modicum of some type of communication).

I have met some of the most fascinating people and experienced some totally random things just by having the confidence to say hello to basically anyone. I am seriously interested in finding out what people are all about. Perhaps an inquisitive and curious nature that lends itself to asking questions of others without regard to their station in life helps to build confidence.

Great questions.
posted by Just Ask, Just Tell at 8:12 PM on October 6, 2006

For me, the bottom line usually comes down to this: truly confident people do not pretend to know that which they do not know.
posted by sculpin at 7:28 PM on October 7, 2006

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