False confidence. It’s surprising how common it is these days. But just how easy is it to spot?
Most of us can tell the difference between arrogant people and those that are assertive. There’s usually a difference. For example, arrogant people can tend towards aggressive behaviour if challenged. Assertive people are more likely to have open minds and listen. But false confidence? How can we tell if someone is genuinely confident or if they are merely putting on a front?
There are signs if you look closely.
Physical Signs of False Confidence
Signs of False Confidence That Show up in Body Language
There are a number of tell-tale signs in a person’s body language that can show us if someone is faking confidence. Watch for over-exaggerated gestures that don’t look normal. Here are a few examples.
This has recently become popular with politicians, particularly in the UK. You will often see MPs standing with their legs unnaturally wide apart in an upside-down V shape. So why are more and more MPs assuming this unnatural stance?
Politicians have to at least appear to look strong and capable. In order to do this, they need to stand tall and fill the space around them. Voters don’t want some shrinking violet leading them and the country. As a result, those exhibiting false confidence will tend to overegg their gestures.
“If you stand with your feet touching, you are shrinking yourself, when what you want is to make yourself look larger, by making large gestures to show confidence.” Dr Connson Locke, Leadership and organisational behaviour lecturer at LSE
Some people give themselves away when they talk, but not by what they say, it’s the way they say it. To illustrate, watch for people that deliberately push their lips forward when forming certain words. They are literally pushing their words at you, forcing you to take notice of them.
In addition, look for people that keep their mouths open after they have finished talking. Specifically, this is designed to make you think they haven’t finished talking and has the effect of stopping you from responding.
Arms and hands
Large sweeping gestures that fill up space around you from an individual are another sign of false confidence. However, if a person is truly confident, they don’t need to make these grand gestures, their actions or words will speak for themselves.
Just take a look at one of the greatest speeches of all time – Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’. This skilled orator didn’t use overly wide arms or hands to convey his message. He didn’t have to. His words and passion for his subject matter were enough.
Psychological Signs of False Confidence
They are always right
No one is right 100% of the time. Even Albert Einstein didn’t know everything. So if someone continually states that their view or opinion is the only one worth listening to, you are dealing with false confidence.
People putting on an air of false confidence will hide their mistakes or even lie about them. Not only that but they will blame others instead of accepting responsibility themselves.
In addition, they’ll attack those who disagree with them or who offer different ideas. People who are genuinely confident know that in order to learn, you have to admit when you make a mistake and own up to it.
They are the centre of attention
Pushing in front of others, expecting royal treatment wherever they go, wanting to be the star attraction. These are signs of many things including narcissism, but they also point to a person who is faking their confidence. If you are confident in who you are, you don’t need all the celebrity trappings.
Likewise, you don’t feel the need to call attention to yourself. You are happy in your own skin and don’t require validation from others. People with false confidence love seeing their name in huge lights. They will wear the best suits or carry the most expensive designer bags.
There is an English saying about people like this. ‘All fur coat and no knickers’. In other words, a lot of bluster and posturing but nothing of substance underneath.
They change their minds
Real confidence is not tied in with public opinion. It doesn’t rely on what other people think or what is popular. People who are confident in their own beliefs are steadfast in their own identity. Moreover, they know who they are in the world and what matters to them. They are not swayed by recent circumstances or a change in the public’s views.
These types of people don’t have to go down the populist route to appease others for their own self-esteem. It is a point of fact that they have their own values and stick to them. By contrast, people with false confidence don’t have this bedrock of moral conscience so they will change their minds like the tides.
How to deal with people who have false confidence
So now you are fully equipped to spot people exhibiting signs of false confidence, what do you do when you meet them?
Use the body language signs to first identify the person you suspect of displaying false confidence behaviour. Then you can use the following three techniques to deal with them:
Use the facts
Facts are indisputable. If someone is claiming that they are right or you think they have made a mistake, you can check it out. Present them with the facts so they have no alternative but to admit they were wrong.
Call them out
Would you let a child get away with behaviour like pushing in front of others or throwing tantrums if they didn’t get their own way? If someone is acting up, then call them out on their unacceptable behaviour.
Make an informed decision
Do you really want to trust a person that constantly changes their mind in line with what others are saying? This is something you can do for yourself. You can change your behaviour towards the person displaying false confidence and decide whether to believe what they say or not.
It can be hard to tell the difference between real confidence and false confidence. I think the best tip is that real confidence isn’t noticed. It is effortless. If someone appears to be trying too hard, that is an indication they are blagging it.