When Are We Too Confident to Learn?

Confidence keeps many feeling safe, grounded, and secure. Even the phrase lack of confidence paints a negative picture.

Followers want confident leaders else they don’t follow. Employers want confident job applicants else they worry about performance. Customers want confident consultants so they can trust in their advice. Patients want confident doctors to keep them alive. People need to feel self-confident to face whatever life presents.

Perhaps this emotional dependency on confidence is where overconfidence plants its evil roots. Admitting lack of knowledge is a momentary gap in confidence. Many can handle these brief hiccups and the learning fuels additional confidence.

Others find these confidence hiccups terrifying and paralyzing. Overconfidence takes over and learning stops.

Confidence Gaps Create Learning Image by:Creativity103

When are we too confident to learn?

When people’s opinions of us mean more than learning?

When we fear what we might learn?

When we are basking in the high of feeling confident?


Even for those of us who revel in learning, there can be one moment, one day, one situation when we freeze and stop learning. Anticipating those moments gives us cognitive power to re-ignite learning. It affects teamwork, customer service, sales, leadership, our career success, and personal life.

What do you think: When are we too confident to learn?

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, takes people from inspiration to action for outstanding results in teamwork, customer service, sales, and leading change. Workshops, keynotes, consultations, and coaching.

10 Responses to “When Are We Too Confident to Learn?”

  1. Ellen Weber says:

    Kate, I am intrigued by the cool questions you are asking here. I’d never thought of relying too much on confidence – and seeing that reliance build into over-confidence. Make perfect sense!

    From a brainpowered perspective what you say also makes sense, although folks sometimes use different words to describe what works best and what wipes us out. Sometimes it takes tough times to help us retool – would you agree?

    Having been hard hit by the recession, General Electric VP Susan Peters’ statement, “We were close to financial meltdown, ”opened a window for curious minds to ask, “How can we expand innovation here?

    Here at the Mita Brain Center we tend to ask, “What would carry us past cortisol chemicals in this situation?

    Over-confidence can soon spread stagnation faster than donuts disappear from a Monday morning staff room. It takes rewired brainpower to spot innovation opportunities. When it happens though, it’s a winning recipe for ongoing renewal, that engages the kind of humility and curiosity and sense of adventure you write about so well here. Thanks Kate – your ideas refresh!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I always love your brain chemicals perspective on the people skills angle. I do believe are correct about one more thing — “close to meltdown” does open the mind of many. Your proactive question in MITA Brain Center — “What would carry us past cortisol chemicals in this situation?” — is intriguing. Can you imagine the success possible if tangible answers to that were consistently applied.

      Many thanks for your contribution here.

  2. Matt says:

    You can never stop learning. The best part about being done with my own schooling… I can focus on the topics I want to and put them into practice. The “grade” is the payoff I get from the knowledge itself.

  3. My grandpa used to say “A know it all … shows they don’t know much.” Perhaps someone who is too confident to learn is afraid to find out what they do not know.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Grandpa was right Joan! There is so much wisdom in many (not all) of the ole’ timers insights. Thanks for bringing it into the present.

  4. For me, I only become overconfident two times. The first is when I believe my experience is more relevant than another person’s.

    The other time is… all the other times! I have a frustrating propensity to think my knowledge and experience are best and I can do everything myself. Maybe I’m the only one.

    Great post and reminder. Thanks.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Your touch of humor Mike hints at a human spirit very open to learning. I also have heard you on the LeadChange webinars and can witness that you were very open to people’s suggestions and ideas. Thanks for contributing here!

  5. Kate,

    As a former professional athlete, I see overconfidence show up in the area of preparation and focus. There are times when you are “on fire” or “in the zone” and you feel like nothing can stop you. There is a tendency to slack off in the area of preparation because things are flowing so easy. During those times, it takes real discipline to critique and study your performance in an effort to get better. We are most vulnerable to a “let down” or poor performance when we lose the day-to-day discipline of learning how to improve. Overconfidence causes us to “take days off”, which prevents us from maximizing every opportunity.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Your insight on what happens when we are on fire or in the zone of performance adds additional dimension to this post. I think you are right “We are most vulnerable to a “let down” or poor performance when we lose the day-to-day discipline of learning how to improve.” Whether it’s because we stop listening, or think we know it all — it affects our future. Pure and simple.

      Thanks for weighing in on this from your experience and perspective as professional athlete!

  6. Valerie Iravani says:

    There are 2 situations when I am almost unwilling to learn – when I am very tired or depressed, and when I feel I have completely integrated what is being taught. I recently attended a company-wide training on material I had mastered (or rather integrated into my thinking and behaviors) years ago. For the first time in my entire career, I resented having to attend a training class. I was very uncomfortable! I also made it known, but still participated.

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