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Confident Humility

I’ve been learning an important lesson over the past few years on “confident humility.” It’s certainly not something I’ve mastered and I know it will be a lifelong journey.

My hope is that you come away with an understanding of the concept of confident humility, how to apply it, and the impact it can have.

It was a recent conversation with my wife that highlighted the topic. I originally was going to focus on the need we all have to feel heard. That is absolutely important, but I have been gaining a deeper understanding of the posture I need to make sure people in my life feel heard.

That posture is confident humility. The term was introduced to me in Adam Grant’s book, “Think Again.” The book is all about challenging the way you think and how by doing so, you can better hear and understand others. He uses examples such as divisive political issues, major religious differences, and known cultural biases or unknown.

In the book, he suggests that the ideal posture to pursue is Confident Humility. Grant describes Confident Humility as “having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem. That gives us enough doubt to reexamine our old knowledge and enough confidence to pursue new insights.”

I’d surmise that everyone reading an article like this has a basis of confident humility as a life-long learner. We recognize there is room for personal growth and improvement. It doesn’t mean we don’t have any confidence.

I laugh at the story of a business person who said he doesn’t need to attend Toastmasters because he already has public speaking mastered. Clearly he’s confident, but there would seem to be quite a void of humility there.

On Humility, C.S. Lewis said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

As I’ve looked to apply this concept to my life, I’ve realized how poor of a listener I’ve been historically. It’s easy for me to be quick with a defensive response when challenged. It’s easy for me to focus on my response to whatever is being said. It’s easy to interrupt someone else when they trigger a thought or story of something I’ve experienced. No one likes a one-upper. Gulp…

Adam Grant also wrote “Confident humility is knowing how little you know and how much you're capable of learning.”

As I’ve worked to apply this concept, listen to people, and ask questions, I’ve experienced a new phenomenon of people saying “thanks for listening” or “thanks for hearing me out.”

At times I want to say, I didn’t really do anything. But, that’s the point. People want and need to feel heard.

It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with everything they say. It just means that I have enough confidence that I don’t feel threatened by another opinion or viewpoint, and I have enough humility to hear them and try to understand.

I want to reiterate that this is something I’ve only recently started to recognize and implement, and I’ve got a LONG way to go.

Comedian John Cleese said “Stupid people have no idea how stupid they are.”

I think we can all nod our heads at that joke. But what if we apply it to ourselves…ouch. Okay, I need confident humility!

I leave you with The Dunning-Kruger Prayer: “Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am, and give me the courage to carry on anyway.”


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