8 Traits of Truly Confident People

#2: They ask for help when they need it

Photo by Italo Melo from Pexels

Do you know the trick to recognizing true confidence?

I’ve got a theory. But before we get there, let’s spend a quick minute looking at the opposite — false confidence…

Spend just a few minutes on social media or TV and you’ll find endless examples of false confidence:

  • Politicians who make sweeping claims and impossible promises.
  • Athletes and celebrities who swagger and flaunt from every angle imaginable.
  • Gurus and hucksters selling a quick fix for every ailment.

On some level, we know it’s all a charade. We know, deep down, that behind the glitzy sheen of fame, most of these people are just as insecure as the rest of us — if not more so!

And I think we also sense that their false confidence is often just a defense mechanism: Projecting confidence gives the illusion of true confidence, however briefly.

Well, reverse engineer this process and I think we have a recipe for genuine confidence:

If false confidence hides insecurity then true confidence embraces vulnerability.

Truly confident people are secure enough in themselves that they’re able to be vulnerable and honest. If you learn to look carefully, you can spot these signs of true confidence — and perhaps begin to emulate them yourself.

Admitting when they’re wrong

Humility doesn’t seem to be one of our culture’s favorite virtues these days. But truly confident people have it in spades. The trick is humility can be hard to spot because it’s not flashy or sexy or exciting.

But there’s a pretty fool-proof test to see if someone has humility — and by extension — confidence: Do they admit when they’re wrong?

Confident people have the self-awareness to know when they’re wrong and the humility to acknowledge it.

If you want to know if someone is truly confident, ask yourself:

When was the last time this person acknowledged they were wrong?

If you’re drawing blanks, that might be a sign that they’re not as confident as they appear.

Asking for help when they need it

People who never ask for help probably have issues with vulnerability.

Think about it: when you ask for help, you are admitting at least a little bit of inadequacy. Of course, it’s perfectly normal to feel inadequate about things — nobody is an expert at everything!

But some people grow up believing they need to be good at everything. They’re afraid that if they’re not exceptionally good at everything that crosses their path, it means they’re unlovable or inadequate.

Confident people have a growth mindset — they’re focused on who they can become, not who they think they’re destined to be.

When people ask for help, it shows that they have a realistic view of themselves and their abilities. It means they know they don’t know everything and are interested in growth not just results.

Someone who’s too insecure to ask for help probably isn’t as confident as they seem.

Accepting past mistakes without dwelling on them

Dealing with mistakes and regrets is a tricky business: On the one hand, you don’t want to live in denial about your mistakes. But on the other, you don’t want to dwell on them and get lost in them either.

The ability to balance these two tendencies well is a hallmark of genuine confidence and healthy self-esteem.

A sure sign of confidence is a healthy acceptance of past mistakes.

When a person is willing to confront and reflect on their past mistakes, it shows emotional maturity and self-awareness. At the same time, the ability to move past one’s mistakes with self-compassion demonstrates a healthy sense of self-respect and balance.

A good barometer of confidence is how people relate to their past, especially the not very pretty parts.

Setting realistic expectations

Confident people have realistic expectations and they set them intentionally.

On the other hand, unrealistic expectations are often a sign of insecurity because they function as primitive defense mechanisms: Telling yourself a story about what should happen or what should be the case temporarily makes you feel better in the moment despite reality defying your wishes.

The trick to healthy expectations is to base them in reality, not wish-fulfillment.

Truly confident people don’t need wild expectations (for themselves or others) in order to fill up some old insecurity or fear. They accept reality for what it is and set their expectations accordingly.

Having compassion for others

Let’s flip this problem on its head for a second…

If you wanted to identify people with a high degree of false confidence, what would you look for? For me, a dead giveaway would be people who are highly critical and judgmental of others. Like a schoolyard bully, they’re so insecure themselves, that the only way they know to feel good about themselves is to put other people down.

Well, what’s the opposite of hypercriticalness and judgmentalness? I’d say something like compassion. And in my experience, people who are routinely empathetic and compassionate are also quietly confident themselves.

Compassion is like the secret handshake of the true confidence club.

It’s only when you’re not obsessed with yourself and your own insecurities that you can confidently shift your focus to other people in a compassionate and empathetic way.

Communicating assertively

One hallmark of genuinely confident people is that they’re okay just being themselves. They don’t feel the need to wear masks and perform and try to be somebody else. They’re comfortable in their own skin and basically like the way they are.

As a result, they’re usually able to communicate in a way that’s honest and straightforward — in other words, they’re assertive.

Assertiveness means having the courage to ask for what you want and say no to what you don’t want.

When people lack true confidence, they often resort to other less helpful communication styles like passivity, aggression, or even passive-aggressive communication.

True confidence reveals itself in honest communication.

Setting (and enforcing) boundaries

Confident people respect themselves just as much as other people. This means that they don’t let other people bully them, manipulate them, or walk all over them. So when push comes to shove, they’re able and willing to set healthy boundaries.

But more than just setting boundaries, true confidence leads to the willingness to enforce boundaries, even if it’s difficult.

Anyone can set boundaries. Confident people enforce them.

The willingness to enforce healthy boundaries is really a matter of self-respect. When your rights are being violated, setting and enforcing healthy boundaries communicates to yourself and everyone else that you have too much respect for yourself to let that happen.

And it’s hard to have that much self-respect and not be confident.

Choosing values over feelings

A final way to identify truly confident people is to look at what really motivates their decisions. Specifically, are they motivated by their feelings or their values?

When you make decisions from a place of fear and insecurity, it’s easy to get pushed around by your strong emotions. Whether it’s giving in to temptation and breaking your diet or not speaking up on an important issue for fear of embarrassment, letting your feelings dictate your decisions is no way to go through life.

Confident people let values, not feelings, guide their behavior.

On the other hand, when you are confident and secure in yourself, your energy and attention are freed up to spend time getting to know your values and highest aspirations. Because it’s only when you’re clear about what really matters to you that you’ll be able to resist the whims of the moment and make consistently good decisions.

All You Need to Know

It can be hard to distinguish false confidence from true confidence. These 8 traits will help you spot the real thing:

  • Admitting when they’re wrong
  • Asking for help
  • Accepting past mistakes without dwelling on them
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Having compassion for others
  • Communicating assertively
  • Setting (and enforcing) boundaries
  • Choosing values over feelings

Psychologist and blogger. I help people use psychology for meaningful personal growth: https://nickwignall.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store