Courage vs. Confidence – What’s the Difference Anyway?

We admire bold leaders because life is tough. Whether you have to speak your mind in the boardroom or stand up in class after discovering a rip in your pants, you need to override an internal monologue that constantly pressures you to be as invisible as possible. There are two ways to silence this urge to avoid standing out.

Courage is the ability to turn off one’s fearful internal monologue, while confidence comes from switching the monologue from uncertain to certain. The more sure you are of surviving, the more confident you are. In contrast, the less you get persuaded by fear, the more courageous you are.

Confidence is also seen as courage without the downsides, which is true to an extent. The drawbacks of confidence are fewer than those of courage because all the disadvantages of being confident are compartmentalized in another word: overconfidence. In my experience, the difference between confidence and overconfidence is how right you were in your estimation of surviving. 

If you take a massive loan in order to start a business, you’re seen as a confident entrepreneur, given that your business is successful. In case your business flops, the same confidence will be seen as overconfidence. It’s a distinction one can make in hindsight and one that helps preserve the image of the word “confidence.” Confidence has its drawbacks and advantages. So does courage.

Pros and Cons of Courage

Here are some of the advantages of being courageous.

  • Less likely to be paralyzed by fear – When you can dismiss fearful thoughts, you can overcome the inertia that keeps most people from following their dreams.
  • More likely to have clear targets – If you have courage, you don’t keep your dreams vague. Instead, you’re brave enough to be clear about what you want.
  • Never a doormat – The last thing a courageous person is, is a doormat. You’ll never let people walk all over you when you’re not afraid to speak up.

Now, let’s look at some of the disadvantages of courage.

  • Social alienation – Humans are social beings, and if you’re not afraid of breaking the social norms, you might end up alienated and alone.
  • Skewed decision making – A courageous person discounts the risks of a situation, which is dangerous if you’re responsible for making choices on behalf of others.

Pros and Cons of Confidence

The key advantages of courage are as follows.

  • Social status – Confidence can be a result of social status and is therefore seen as a sign of it as well. People think that you must be somebody of consequence when you carry yourself like somebody of consequence.
  • Persuasiveness – It is difficult to make others braver by being courageous, but you can make people more certain in your ideas by being confident.
  • Self-esteem – Confidence, even when faked, can increase your self-esteem. Certainty is tied to security, which offsets stress. The more confident you are in yourself, the more good you feel being yourself. The lack of contradiction between who you are and what you present yourself as can improve your self-esteem.

Below are the drawbacks of confidence (or overconfidence).

  • Can limit personal growth – Abundance of confidence can create blindspots. If you’re more confident than curious, you will end up with an upper limit to your personal growth.
  • Will turn off some people – No matter the level of confidence you manifest, someone, somewhere, will not be able to stomach it. Different people have different limits to the degree of confidence they can stomach. Past that is what they call “over-confidence.”  

C Suite Tools: The Role of Confidence and Courage in Career Success

Confidence and courage are both internal tools that can be used for social progress. But just like you can’t use a spoon to iron a suit, you cannot use confidence to do courage’s job. The opposite is also true. These tools aren’t interchangeable, which is why you must know the context that calls for you to be confident and one that requires you to be brave.

It is more important to have confidence than courage if you want to persuade others. Confidence is a sense of certainty that you can transfer to others. In contrast, it is more important to have courage when a personal fear is getting in the way of something you need to do.

Confidence will help you in client-facing roles and audience-facing endeavors, while courage will be your companion when you have to take significant risks. Both of these tools are required in the business world because revenue and income are tied to human needs. 

We have an emotional relationship with money because money fulfills our desires, and its absence leads to a lack of status and options. Consequently, any time we have to make a choice that can lead to more or less money, we end up getting excited or afraid. Confidence and courage both help us navigate the latter emotion. 

If you’re the only one who has to take a certain action, being courageous in the face of fear will help. By now, you know the rest: if you have to inspire others to take action and overcome their fears, you must be confident. When I position confidence as social courage, many of my readers assume that it is a tool for CEOs and upper-level managers. 

Inspiring action isn’t the exclusive domain of business leaders. Recruiters and managers aren’t immune to fear; they’re often afraid to make the wrong decision as well. As a candidate, you have to be confident enough to inspire the recruiter to take action and hire you, even if he is afraid to make the wrong decision.

It is important to have confidence in yourself because it inspires others to be open to you and to give you a chance. With higher confidence, your body language sells you as a higher-status, competent person while the lack of certainty inspires doubt and caution in others.

This is different from being immune to fear. In business and career, fear is a tool as well, as it helps you avoid unnecessary risks. In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that giant companies fail because they are blind. This is just a fancier way of saying bigger companies lack fear. Knowing when to be afraid is important but having the courage to act despite being afraid is crucial as well. So the last thing you want is to be fearless.

“Fearless” is not the same as “confident.” A confident person knows that things can go wrong but is certain of his survival, while a fearless individual doesn’t acknowledge the risks of a situation. A sole operator can be fearless, but a leader has to be cautious and confident simultaneously.

Building Confidence and Courage

With the difference between confidence and courage explained alongside the specific positives and negatives of each tool, let’s look at how you can improve in both areas. I have written a separate post on how to be more confident, so I will be a little more elaborate on cultivating courage in this section. Still, confidence tips will not be excluded from this post.

You build confidence and courage by re-evaluating fear. To be more confident, you must look at previous situations you have survived until you see yourself as a survivor. In order to have courage, though, you have to look ahead at how much you desire what’s on the other side of your fear.

Mind Hack: Get Rid of Fear

As mentioned earlier, courage is the result of overriding your fear. Some of us are born and raised less afraid, while others feel more scared per unit of risk than the average. Either way, our capacity for focus is finite. If you can focus on anything that inspires an emotion other than fear, you can get your mind off of fear. 

The intensity of the alternative emotion dictates the quantity of residual fear. A less pretentious version of that is: the more excited you are about what’s on the other side of your fear, the less afraid you are of the obstacle ahead of you.

Confidence From Reflection

If you’re reading this, you’re alive, which I assume because I have no evidence of ghosts reading my blog. And if you’re alive, then you have survived all the situations in which you were afraid.

By reflecting on your past and writing down the instances where you thought everything was collapsing, you’ll realize that your fears are almost always exaggerated. With the constant study of this, you will develop a sense of certainty relative to your fears. You will ultimately conclude that “no matter what happens, I will be fine.” And that’s a charismatic attitude to have. To read more about cultivating charisma, read my book, Charm Like A Narcissist.

Final Thoughts

Confidence and courage can help us thrive in business and life. Having confidence means you can be certain outside your comfort zone and can even inspire others to take action in situations where they might otherwise be afraid. Courage, on the other hand, isn’t as social as it is the ability to override one’s personal fears by refocusing on a different emotion like excitement. A good leader has both these tools and uses them without being completely blind to risks and potential consequences of bold decisions.

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