The number one indication I see of confidence in people is the ability to admit to things they don’t know.

Or that they were wrong about something.  The people that refuse to admit wrong are similar, but I’ve written about them before so I’ll just leave that alone today.

Both of these qualities are actually rare.  Many people are actively trying to appear as though their understanding of most topics is at the very least on par with most other people, and likely at a higher level.  This is quite impossible as any one person simply cannot know all the things that another person knows due to limitations in field of study and cognitive recall.

Humility concerning knowledge is extremely underrated.  When people state those things they do not fully comprehend, they empower those around them to educate and provide value to themselves.  They quickly create an environment where learning, and teaching, are encouraged.

On the flip side, when people continually represent omniscience regarding most subjects, conversations quickly become stifled as participants realize there is little value in attempting to add knowledge to the collective melting pot.  If a network of human knowledge is similar to Metcalfe’s law where the value of the output is dependent on the nodes participating, any slowing of that output has an exponentially detractive effect.

In short, when everyone is a know it all, no one wants to talk.  When no one wants to talk, all ideas remain internal and the environment becomes stale.

This relates to confidence in that workplaces are, for better or worse, often viewed by employees as a zero sum game from the employment perspective.  If you want to get promoted, you are competing against coworkers — or so goes the perception (I do not agree with this, promotions are proportional to the value one can add to an organization — as the pie of resources expands with increased revenue, or other appreciable metric, organizational rewards correlate.)

So appearing smart, or at least as smart as everyone else in your work place, is often table stakes for employees attempting to further their causes.  Confident people are already certain of the value they add and do not shy away form asking questions, learning new things or expressing their lack of knowledge in certain areas.  They view the potential downside as less negative than the potential upside of learning new things and applying them in the future.  Or perhaps do not see a potential downside at all.

These are the people needed to grow organizations — they will learn the things necessary to expand reach and capability of a company.