Managing Overconfident People
Controlling the Effects of Overconfidence
One of your brightest and most ambitious team members, Alex, has just turned in his quarterly projections.
As you read through the report, you see numerous errors, both numerical and grammatical. The work is sloppy and has obviously not been checked.
His sales projections for the upcoming quarter are more than double what you agreed, just a few days ago. Instead of following your guidance, he's putting the whole team – and your budget – at risk, by claiming that he'll achieve these sales figures.
Although Alex is one of your hardest workers, his overconfidence is starting to have a negative effect on others in the department, including you. He's taking unnecessary risks, making unrealistic predictions, and jeopardizing working relationships.
It takes strategy and finesse to manage an overconfident person, as well as a willingness to address the issue before it causes problems. In this article, we'll look at the dangers of overconfidence, and we'll explore how you can manage an overconfident person.
Self-confidence is essential for people to be happy, productive, and engaged. It's only when overconfidence develops that it becomes a problem! If you suspect that some of your team members don't have enough confidence, our article on Building Confidence in Other People will help you help them.
The Dangers of Overconfidence
Overconfidence is surprisingly common. Studies show that lots of us are overconfident about something, whether it's our driving skills, our aptitude for technology, or our belief that we're more talented or intelligent than our peers.
While it may seem to be a personality flaw today, some overconfidence may have been a good thing in the past. Other studies suggest that overconfidence helped our ancestors survive, because they were faster, and could do more with fewer resources.
Life is much more complicated now, and, while our circumstances have changed drastically, our tendency to overestimate our capabilities has not.
Effects of Overconfidence
The problem with overconfidence is that it can be damaging, and even dangerous, in the workplace.
Overconfidence can do the following:
- Encourage team members to press ahead with flawed projects, or take unnecessary, or poorly calculated, risks.
- Lead team members to come across as cocky or arrogant to clients and suppliers, which might damage your company's reputation.
- Destroy good working relationships between team members and their colleagues, and lower your group's morale.
- Lead to major strategic mistakes, such as undertaking market expansion before your organization is ready, or losing the ability to see early warning signs.
- Result in market or sales predictions that are wildly optimistic, putting your team or organization at risk.
- Lead to substandard work from employees, because they don't bother to check their work properly.
- Cause accidents in the workplace. This is especially true in factory or industrial settings, where overconfident team members may put themselves and others at risk.
As you can see, an overconfident employee can cause significant problems in your team and organization. This is why you need to manage overconfidence appropriately.
There's a good chance that your overconfident people don't recognize that they're overconfident. They may not realize how their attitude is putting their work, or their relationships, at risk.
Step 1: Look for Signs
Before you take any action, look for some common signs of overconfidence.
- Showing impulsiveness, or impatience.
- Turning in sloppy work, or making mistakes that show a lack of attention to detail.
- Demonstrating a lack of regard for other people's views or opinions.
- Talking over others in conversations or meetings, or becoming overly opinionated.
- Resisting constructive feedback.
- Making others feel bad or inferior, or exhibiting unpleasant behaviors. This can lead to strained working relationships, or even isolation.
- Becoming overly sensitive to criticism.
- Relying too much on past successes.
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list – people may exhibit only a handful of these signs, or they may display their overconfidence in other ways. Use your own best judgment when deciding whether people are truly overconfident: some people might simply have a loud or extroverted personality, which can make them appear overconfident at times.
Step 2: Gather Data
When you suspect that someone on your team is overconfident, start documenting specific examples that support or contradict this conclusion. Write down unhelpful behaviors, poor decisions that were the direct result of overconfidence, work mistakes, or other problems that you've seen as a result of it. Also, write down any positives that you see.
If you decide that there is a problem, this gives you firm evidence to draw on when you discuss the problem in the next step.
Step 3: Meet One-on-One
Your next step is to schedule a one-on-one meeting with this person to address the issue. Keep in mind that your team member will probably be unaware that he or she comes across as overconfident, so you should approach the situation with care and sensitivity.
Make sure that you communicate how valuable having confidence is, not only to your team member's work, but also to team morale. But then use the examples from Step 2 to illustrate how overconfidence is affecting their work, and the rest of the team, in a negative way.
Encourage the team member to moderate their behavior. They can do this by ensuring that they're doing detailed work when it's needed, by being open to the opinions and ideas of others, and by remembering that no one is perfect and that everyone needs to check their work.
Another key way to modify this behavior is by outlining the times that it's most problematic. For example, overconfidence is most dangerous in situations where consequences are significant, where attention to detail is needed, or in emergency or stressful situations. Encourage your team member to share information as much as possible with the group, and to check any decisions with you before implementation.
This will probably be a difficult conversation to have. If you're unsure about how best to communicate this information, try role-playing the conversation with a colleague to make sure that you get your approach right. Our article on Managing Egos at Work also has some useful information on this.
This will probably also be an unwelcome message, and your team member may not take it fully on board. Be prepared to have to address the issue again, if necessary.
Step 4: Alleviate Overconfidence
As a leader, you can unknowingly contribute to your team's overconfidence, with insincere praise, a lack of constructive feedback, or a laissez faire management style. You should take steps to make sure that everyone on your team has an appropriate, healthy level of confidence.
Sometimes, overconfidence can develop if team members start to feel that they can do no wrong. This is especially true if they've made a number of good decisions, or if they have had a lot of success in the past.
Set up a framework for your team members, so that they have an easier time keeping their feet on the ground. You could create a competitor file, for instance, and ask everyone on your team to read and contribute to it weekly. You can then regularly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor and its movements. These conversations will keep your team members informed about what the competition is doing, and remind them that they need to stay "on their toes."
Another way to alleviate overconfidence is to contact your customers directly. Ask them for feedback on how your team is doing, and encourage them to provide constructive criticism that you can pass on to the group. Hearing criticism from customers can serve as a reality check, and can make a real impact on people, compared with feedback that comes just from you.
Make sure that you give regular feedback. This includes praise for tasks done well, as well as constructive criticism on areas that need to improve. Use the Feedback Matrix to help each person use criticism constructively, in order to learn and grow.
Discuss mistakes honestly and openly, but without blame. It does everyone a disservice when you overlook mistakes, consciously or unconsciously, because no one learns from them. However, acknowledging mistakes shows that no one is infallible, and helps everyone grow stronger.
Everyone needs self-confidence to work and live successfully. But when that confidence gets out of control and turns into overconfidence, it can lead to mistakes, low team morale, poor decision-making, and even workplace accidents.
If someone on your team seems overconfident, follow these steps to address the problem:
- Look for signs.
- Gather data.
- Meet one-on-one.
- Alleviate overconfidence.
Keep in mind that this person probably won't have any idea that his or her high levels of self-confidence have crossed the line into overconfidence. When you broach the subject, do so with care and sensitivity.