Want to Get Ahead at Work? Be Overconfident

Thinking you'll go far will make your boss think so, too, according to a new study.

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Every workplace has its star: the person who keeps getting promoted to levels that match her sky-high ego. But it's her ego, not her skills, which likely got her there, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers at four different British universities found that overconfident people tend to be judged as better than they actually are.

The study makes the point that overconfident people tend to be self-deceived, so they truly believe they're God's gift to the workplace. And researchers say this self-deception may have evolved to make people better at fooling others about their worth.

They confirmed it by monitoring tutorials at two London universities, in which small groups discuss the course materials with a teaching assistant. At the end of the first tutorial session, researchers asked the students to predict how each of their peers would perform in the class; they predicted both their final grade in the class and how well they would do in their next assignment. Each participant also rated his or her own performance. The grader did not know the identity of the students when reviewing their work.

Students who gave themselves a higher predicted grade also received a higher prediction from their peers, regardless of how they actually did in the class. And underconfident students who gave themselves a lower grade were also given lower grades by their peers. The results were unaffected by factors like sex, age, or wealth, and the connection between confidence and ratings persisted as the class went on.

This bias towards the overconfident can be a real danger, researchers say. That's because being too confident can lead to disasters for bankers, stock traders, and even armies, because they become too vulnerable to risk. But as long as you don't have lives (or billions of dollars) at stake at your job, you'd better start faking it until you make it.


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Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.