Confidence: Finding the Sweet Spot

Confidence: Finding the Sweet Spot

From Arlene | Posted by - October 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Successful entrepreneurs aren't exactly shrinking violets. Though they can and do differ wildly, all successful entrepreneurs have something in common: confidence in their own vision, and in whatever it is that they're asking others to buy into and support. Just to be clear, I'm talking about professional confidence, which is a little different from self-confidence, in my opinion. It's really surprising how many highly accomplished people who are very visible (actors, business leaders, sports figures) aren't wildly self-confident—in fact, a lot of them verge on insecurity when it comes to their own looks and personalities--yet have no issues whatsoever when it comes to their professional prowess.

So for the purposes of this conversation, I'm just talking about professional confidence. And though I don't generally like to categorize along gender lines--I find that a limiting way to think –on Dragons' Den, I have observed a real difference: women who want to be entrepreneurs tend to downplay their own achievements, while men tend to inflate theirs.

A woman who has launched a venture from her home will come on the show and say something like, "I've sold half a million dollars of stuff out of my basement and I know it's not a lot but I don't have a husband and I have three kids and one of them has special needs, so I have another full-time job to pay the bills, and I know I only did a half a million last year and I only made $250,000, but…." Then a guy will come into the den and he'll say, "This is gonna be huge! I've done $50,000 in sales and I just know I'm going to make a fortune."

As an entrepreneur, being overly self-aggrandizing or overly apologetic is problematic, each in its own way. Humility is essential when you're seeking to persuade others, but too much self-deprecation and you risk selling them on the idea that you're not worth listening to. Likewise, confidence is vital, but come on too strong and you risk conveying that you're sure you have nothing to learn.

So, you have to find the sweet spot. Start paying close attention to people who radiate confidence naturally, the kind of confidence that draws you in rather than repels you. I think you'll find that it doesn't present as apologetic or swaggering. It presents as quiet self-belief. You know it when you see it. And once you start to recognize and tune into it in yourself and others, you'll also know when it's absent.

Personally, I always know a meeting is heading south when I start feeling too eager to show what I know. If you're hellbent on impressing, you just can't listen closely enough. And if you're intent on proving how intelligent and accomplished you are, there's a very real risk of turning off the people you're trying to persuade. You wind up overdoing it. Sometimes on Dragons' Den entrepreneurs wheel out fancy language when plain talk would be so much better, and flashy packaging instead of the straight goods, inflated valuations of their companies rather than sales numbers that speak for themselves. If there's too much window dressing, people start wondering why you need it and what you're trying to hide behind it--even though the only thing you may be trying to disguise is a feeling of inadequacy. In any real-life situation, when someone seems to be overreaching and trying to sound high-flown, rather than simple and straightforward, he doesn't seem more intelligent. He just seems less genuine. And as I've said before, for an entrepreneur, authenticity is everything.

In the end, I think of confidence as my calling card. And I have learned that it's up to me whether the people to whom I hand it decide to keep it or toss it away.

It took me a while to find the sweet spot. And on the days when it goes missing--as it can--I have to find my way back to it. How about you? Where do fit on the confidence continuum? Any good cautionary tales about having too much – or too little?

Tags: arlene dickinson, dickinson, blog, business, success, vision, confidence

Chris Burr
October 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Great advice; nothing is worse than arrogance when you're trying to form a partnership, except maybe a total absence of self confidence. Finding that balance can be tricky, but worth the effort.

Tyler Beck
October 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I have to agree. Projecting professional confidence in a business situation is a careful mix of all the right elements.

Making a connection and selling yourself before selling the product will help the whole process. I have come to realize that listening and asking meaningful questions about the person/company/situation you are dealing with is often a great tool when presenting a pitch. Keeping the message simple and leaving room for dialogue can lead to broader discussions and opportunities. 

Prepare yourself by making sure that you understand your message. Try to learn as much as you can about your audience before presenting. Allow time for them to make statements and ask questions. Be very open to objection and criticism. 

Try not to allow your excitement, enthusiastic and knowledge for the topic become the dominant factor for your presentation. 

Being self taught, I can admit that I have learned many of these lesson from the school of hard knocks.

I hope some of these help find that Sweet Spot.

Brian Mullins
October 23, 2012 at 5:51 am

The kind of confidence you write about only comes from experience. Over time the experience of winning or just surviving a close call or even losing allows one to build that "confidence". Knowing your limits also partners well with being confident. We have all heard the phrase overly confident. Never, never be that person. Quiet confidence is more like it. 

Ralf Chlipalski
October 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Confidence is oft mistook for hype, arrogance, entitlement, delusion and who you know, not what you know. The idea that confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence is not true unless it's the right kind of confidence. When I look back on my first appearance on Dragons' Den, I may have looked self-conscious but in reality I was way too over-confident; a condition that is wearing off with each passing year. Is it better this way, I don't know. No. It's better to believe in yourself even if you're bluffing.

October 25, 2012 at 3:51 am

I do find that sometimes I feel as though I have to prove myself more because I am a female Software Developer. My field is mostly men, and it's difficult sometimes as I feel I need to try harder to prove that I am knowledgeable and capable. I like that you wrote this article as I realize now that I'm not the only one who feels this way. But I notice now when I am in meetings, when I feel as though I need to start proving myself, I chill out and remind myself that I don't need to do that to prove my skills. I even research other Software Development firms and sometimes I'll come across a company with a really catchy website with copy written all over their site that sounds like B.S., and when I look through their portfolio I notice their projects were not built up to my standards and I realize that all the B.S. on their website is there for a reason - to mask the low quality of work. So I completely agree with this article, and I will continue to work on my "professional" confidence!  :)

Zulubear ~ Annette Young
October 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm


Believing in believing in who you are and what you do, combined with passion and the expertise that grows in time with staying open to the  fact that  with each new person you meet you can know nothing, because they know their own model of the world so well, can be either nerve wracking or most empowering for all engaged.

Confidence grows with allowing yourself to not know stuff.

For me, I am no where near being confident in knowing the business side of my business. I just spent a career time in private practice with troubled kids and upset parents who have no voice within our institutions. 

At age 53 my life's work has had to find a way to reach a bigger audience. I write children's books and design learning toys from children who are teaching each other how to behave so big people can listen. 

While at the same time I am needing to talk to business folks who have expertise in what they do. Unfortunately and not my brain talks in kid talk from years of hanging out with kids.  So many times I end up feeling that I have intimidated business professionals with my knowing that I know what I know. Sometimes I come across as not knowing a darn thing about how to run a business. Which is true in a sense because I am still learning.

So, I have decided to confess. Now I just gotta learn how to hide my gullibleness or not, while  protecting the interests of my business.

Somedays all I can do is rely on that inner knowing feeling. That for sure I am confident in. It's the one let's me sort for 'genuine'.

It's the one that let's me grow bigger. That I can simply stay true to being the best person I can.

Wow, Arlene you just taught me that fear of others finding out you don't know something is a waste of time.


Blant Simonetti
November 27, 2018 at 10:48 am
Thank you for sharing!!!
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