[October 2019] The emotional burden of underconfidence: Simple remedies may be at hand

By Mark Cadman, Managing Director, Consulting Psychologist, ebilities

Underconfident people consistently underrate their true abilities. They question their thinking in solving problems and in dealing with new situations. They prefer to stay in the background and do not feel comfortable speaking up at meetings. Their underconfidence leads them to avoid opportunities that could lead to fulfilling their career potential.

But the reluctance to speak up and take risks is not the most important consequence of underconfidence. Research shows that some very real health and wellbeing concerns can stem from underconfidence.

In a study of over 200 employed adults, we found that underconfident people rated themselves as having limited resilience and personal strength, and as experiencing inner conflict and self doubt. They also reported higher levels of anxiety, and profiled as more dissatisfied and pessimistic than their peers.  It was not surprising that these individuals were inclined to become preoccupied with feelings of inadequacy and actively avoid leadership roles.

Many underconfident people are highly capable based on their ability and have the potential to be excellent team members. The problem is that their low confidence generates a heavy emotional load, and that can derail them at work.

The good news is that easy to implement interventions like the support of a dedicated mentor may help underconfident people break the disruptive influence of their feelings of inadequacy on their workplace performance.

Another approach that is receiving attention is for underconfident individuals to closely monitor their feelings via wearable devices and apps on their smartphones. The simple act of monitoring their disruptive emotions may help them achieve better control over them.

At the heart of the issue of underconfidence is a person’s ‘inner voice’ in the form of negative self talk that feeds their feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and pessimism. It’s for this reason, that teaching people how to replace negative self talk with positive inner speech can also be of benefit in helping them along the path of overcoming their self doubt, fear of failure and anxiety.

When it comes to the investment in corporate Wellness programmes, there is a strong case for organizations to turn their attention to underconfident people. Helping them to better manage their disruptive feelings and emotions will impact on their health, wellbeing and performance in the workplace.



Mark Cadman is the Managing Director and Head Consulting Psychologist at ebilities. The company is at the forefront of helping organizations select and develop their most valuable assets, their people.

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