Confidence or Competence – Which Comes First?

November 12, 2017 Chris Pearse

Last week I delivered a workshop on Confidence.

I have never run a Confidence workshop in my life and I must admit that I found myself questioning my credentials before realising that doing so was to slip back into the received ‘wisdom’ that Confidence is inextricably intertwined with Competence. That to be confident, you have to “know what you are doing and have done it before”

It is a given that the more we practise a skill, the more competence we accrue and the more confident we become.

In fact, many crucial decisions are based on the linkage between Confidence and Competence. Have you tried applying for a job that you’ve never done before?

Would you allow someone to service your aeroplane that was clearly confident but not necessarily competent to do the job?

So it was with a mild sense of trepidation that I set out, for the first time, to debunk the myth that confidence is a function or a derivative of competence:

Take learning to ride a bike. When I first got on a (2-wheeled) bike, I had no idea how to ride it – I was incompetent. All I brought with me was an innocent confidence that I would learn. I had no idea how I would learn. I had no idea what to do other than pedal and steer. I had every expectation that I would fall off. But I had confidence that I would learn and quickly become competent. And so it was.

Now this kind of confidence is very different from the bravado, arrogance or machismo that it is easily confused with. That kind of hubristic over-confidence is often based on an assumption of competence in place of the potential for competence which requires learning. Real confidence is about Trust – trust in your potential to meet a challenge, without which competence is an irrelevancy.

At any point in the learning cycle, confidence must precede competence, from second to second and from day to day. This gives credence to that contentious adage:

Fake it to Make it

Which, inconveniently perhaps, points to the reality of all human development.

But what is far more significant than all these rationalisations was the palpable sense of relief amongst all the workshop delegates that an all-pervading foundation of confidence is not only independent of any other factor, it is also a natural state of being that we are systematically taught to ignore and suppress.

So rather than learning how to become confident through various techniques and methods, my delegates discovered how to simply choose to be confident by instantly dispensing with any ideas to the contrary.

And their body language, posture and physiognomy changed accordingly.