Playing the Confidence Game

Social advantage is an interesting phrase. It describes that thing that gives us power or leverage over other people. What is it though?

Good question. We know that certain people have more of it. They are more “influential” or “persuasive”. And yet it is difficult to isolate a single thing that gives them that capacity.

You might say it is money. A rich person can buy influence. But while money can buy things, it is less obvious that it can buy people. The reason has to do with confidence. The more confidence that we project, the more others are drawn to it. That is why we tend to fool ourselves into believing that we are more than we really are.

Psychologists have identified several ways of fooling ourselves: biased information-gathering, biased reasoning and biased recollections. The new work, forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Psychology, focuses on the first—the way we seek information that supports what we want to believe and avoid that which does not.

Is there a strategic value to this insight?

Von Hippel offers two pieces of wisdom regarding self-deception: “My Machiavellian advice is this is a tool that works,” he says. “If you need to convince somebody of something, if your career or social success depends on persuasion, then the first person who needs to be [convinced] is yourself.” On the defensive side, he says, whenever anyone tries to convince you of something, think about what might be motivating that person. Even if he is not lying to you, he may be deceiving both you and himself.


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