the art of quiet confidence

Have you seen the show “Mad Men”? Well, even if you haven’t, and assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you’d know exactly who I mean when I say Don Draper or Peggy Olson. (Or wait, did I just age myself with that reference??!!??)

Don Draper is your quintessential charismatic smooth talker, exemplifying the suave, assertive confidence of an advertising executive in the 1960s. On the other hand, Peggy Olson starts off as a timid secretary and works her way up to become a successful copywriter. Her journey is marked not by loud, assertive declarations of her abilities, but rather through her steady, persistent work and her growing belief in her skills and worth.

It’s probably a reflection of the kind of person I am that I identify more with Peggy’s brand of quiet confidence rather than the overtly brash confidence that Don Draper portrays (and nope, it doesn’t have much to do with me being a woman). 

Look, I am not here to tell you that one type of confidence is better than the other. But if you’re one of the quiet ones, trying to find your place in a world that seems to award loudness and showboat-ery (sometimes even in the absence of actual skills or substance), then this post is for you.

What Does it Mean to Have Quiet Confidence?

Quiet confidence means being secure in who you are, in your own skin, without needing the spotlight. This form of confidence is rooted in a deep self-awareness. It’s not about being the loudest in the room or constantly needing to be the center of attention; it’s about having deep self-belief and composure that doesn’t need external validation. 

Quiet confidence reflects a sense of inner peace and an unwavering assurance in your abilities, knowledge, and decisions.

While loud confidence might be all about that grand entrance, quiet confidence is more of a subtle, yet powerful presence. 

11 Traits of a Quietly Confident Person

So, what makes up this cool, calm confidence? Let’s dive into some of these key traits:

1. Self-awareness: Being self-aware is like having an internal GPS. It guides you in understanding your true strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly, being at peace with them. It’s about recognizing your emotions, triggers, and habits. This doesn’t mean you’re perfect; it simply means you’re innately aware of yourself and you own it. 

2. Competence: It’s hard to exude confidence without having an understanding of your strengths and areas of competence. It does not mean that you know everything, but rather that you have enough self-belief to tackle anything that comes your way – be it new projects, stressful situations, or usual life challenges – in a calm and thought-through manner.

3. Active Listener: There’s an art to listening that quietly confident people have mastered. By truly listening – by listening more than you speak – you not only show respect to the other person (and believe me, people notice!) but you’re also creating space for learning new things and understanding different perspectives.

4. Genuine Interest in Others: Somewhat following on from being an active listener, I see that people who are quietly confident typically have a genuine interest in others. It’s asking your coworker about their weekend not as small talk, but because you genuinely care. It’s remembering small personal details about others that make them feel good. It’s relationship-building at its finest, stemming from genuine curiosity and interest without necessarily expecting something in return.

5. Humility: Your accomplishments stand on their own; you feel no urge to broadcast your successes to seek applause. Knowing you’re good at what you do but not feeling the need to boast is a reflection of true confidence. It’s a quiet acknowledgment of your value without seeking constant external validation.

6. Openness to Learning: Most quietly confident people are lifelong learners. Openness to learning keeps your brain sharp, makes you more interesting, and is something you can turn into a real competitive advantage in any professional setup.

7. Acceptance of Mistakes: Being able to admit your mistakes and embrace them is a true sign of being comfortable with who you are. It does not weaken you and make you look less smart. It takes genuine confidence and vulnerability to own up to your mistakes and make a commitment to improving. 

8. Consistency: Consistency is your reliability factor. It’s showing up, day in and day out, rain or shine. People know what to expect from you, and that’s a huge trust builder.

9. Non-Reactivity: You keep your cool, especially under pressure. It’s not that you don’t feel stress; it’s that you manage your response to it. It’s choosing to respond, not react.

10. Comfort in Silence: Not every moment needs words. Quiet confidence allows for comfortable silences – it’s understanding that sometimes silence speaks louder than words. And it tends to stem from a keen understanding of the adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” :)

11. Focused Action: Quietly confident people are goal-oriented but in a steady, non-performative way. They set goals and methodically work towards them, often letting their achievements speak for themselves. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of signs of quiet confidence but when I think of the people in my life who I count as being quietly confident, these are some of the key traits that come to my mind.

How to Exude Quiet Confidence?

the art of quiet confidence

The Importance of Self-Belief

Self-belief is the bedrock of quiet confidence – it comes from a steadfast assurance in your own capabilities. This belief isn’t about being perfect; it’s about trusting in your own abilities and values. Imagine it like planting a seed in a garden. You don’t see its growth immediately, but with nurturing and time, it blossoms. That’s what self-belief does to quiet confidence – it nurtures and grows it. 

Remember, the way you see yourself sets the tone for how others perceive you. Embrace your strengths, accept your flaws, and believe in your unique journey. Your self-belief is the invisible yet powerful force behind your quiet confidence.

Practical Tips to Exhibit Quiet Confidence

1| Make a list of things that make you feel good about yourself

A couple of years ago, I was doing a personal life audit and a question that I got completely stuck on was “list your skills and achievements”. I kid you not but it took me nearly an hour (and a whole lot of mental wrangling) to come up with a somewhat decent list. Now look, I am no Nobel Prize winner, but come on! We all have skills. We have all done some kind of hard thing or the other. We’ve not made it to wherever we are in our lives by just breezing our way through life.

So if you are anything like me and questions like the one above make you stumble too, I’ve got a gentler alternative for you – instead of focusing narrowly on your “skills and achievements”, make a list of all of the things about you that make you feel good about yourself. Maybe you make a mean birthday cake. Maybe you’re the one in your group of friends who aces the pub quiz every single time. Maybe everyone in the office knows you as the queen of financial modeling. List all of that down! No matter how small, how inconsequential it might feel, everything goes on that list.  

Look over that list the next time you need a boost of confidence.

2| Master a skill (or two)

Yes, you can fake it till you make it. But here’s the thing – when it comes to quiet confidence, it’s a sense of strength and belief that comes from within. While faking it till you make it is definitely a skill in itself, it’s not necessarily the thing that will make you feel your true personal power.

Get intentional about building your skills. Pick up 1-2 things to begin with and get deep into them. Take classes, read more about them, and do whatever you need to. Soft skills, tangible skills – they all matter. Depending on the kind of life you want for yourself, find skills that will add value to your personal and professional goals and get invested in upskilling. Becoming really good at something will give you an innate sense of confidence, help you get rid of low self-esteem issues, and boost your self-worth.

3| Step outside your comfort zone

Living in your comfort zone may feel safe, but it can also hinder personal growth and prevent you from experiencing new and exciting opportunities in the outside world. Find ways of challenging yourself, push yourself to do a thing (or two) that scares you, and see how your self-confidence soars – which will automatically feed into building a sense of quiet confidence.

Here are some strategies to help you expand your comfort zone:

  1. Embrace new experiences: Whether it’s trying out a new hobby, learning new things, attending social events, or traveling more, make a conscious effort to expose yourself to new experiences that challenge you and help you grow.
  2. It’s okay to start small: Start with smaller goals that push you just beyond your comfort level and gradually work your way up to bigger challenges.
  3. Practice mindfulness: Focus on living in the present moment and accept that discomfort is a natural part of growth and change.
  4. Learn from mistakes: Accept that setbacks and mistakes are part of the learning process, and are not a sign of weakness. Use them as opportunities to reflect and grow.
  5. Build a support system: Seek out friends and mentors who encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and provide emotional support and guidance.

By expanding your comfort zone, you can develop greater self-assurance, face new challenges with confidence, navigate unfamiliar social situations with ease, and hopefully have some fun along the way!

4| Show rather than tell

I read a fair bit of fiction (and yes, a LOT of that is romance novels) and I am big fan of authors who do more showing than telling. It’s one thing to tell that the main character felt a deep sense of despair and anguish, but it hits on a completely different level when the author shows that through dialogue and actions. 

Similarly, in real life, amp up on being action-oriented. A lack of confidence often shows up in a lot of talk, but no real effort of action to show for it. Be the opposite of that. Let your work and actions show your skills, your strengths. 

5| Learn the art of body language

Body language can speak volumes about your confidence level, especially in social settings. When you exude quiet confidence through your nonverbal cues, it will influence how others perceive and engage with you. 

Make and maintain eye contact with those you interact with. Also, adopt a relaxed posture. Stand tall, shoulders back, with a relaxed and open stance. Be mindful of how you hold your body and avoid crossing your arms, which can create a defensive and closed-off appearance. Lean in (not in a creepy way!!!) towards the person you are speaking to. Don’t be afraid to take up space and own your surroundings.

6| Be open to feedback

It bears repeating, but being a confident person – a quiet one or an overt one – does not mean being perfect. Which means that there will be times when you receive feedback from people around you. Now sure, you do not have to take hurtful criticism lying down, but confident people do not shy away from constructive or positive feedback.

Positive feedback can help you solidify your sense of self and give you a boost in confidence. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, can be an opportunity to grow and improve, which will only help you in personal growth journey. Much like constructive criticism, even negative feedback can sometimes help to

7| Love yourself

I see you there, rolling your eyes. But really, through various experiences in my life, I’ve realized that when you’re constantly down on yourself, letting your inner critic having a field day, it’s really, really hard to exude any real kind of confidence. 

You have to learn to love yourself, flaws and all. Stop talking crap to yourself. Stop beating yourself up over mistakes. We all make mistakes from time to time, we all mess up even important things sometimes. The more you listen to your harsh inner voice, the easier it will be to erode your inner confidence. 

I’d go so far as to say that loving yourself is one of the key pillars of living a good life. Your internal belief system, how you take care of your physical body and mental health, keeping your word, doing things that fulfill you – all of these things contribute to how you feel about yourself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but doing more things that make you feel good (and you know that loading yourself on junk food all the time does not classify as a good habit!) will further develop your sense of inner strength and confidence.

When you love and accept your true self, you’re a better version of yourself, you’re spreading positive energy around you, you’re building your self-worth, and you’re well on your way to becoming one of those quiet self-confident people!

8| Plan ahead for social situations

If you’re typically an introvert or a quiet person, new and large social settings can get overwhelming real fast. Unless you plan to go through life as a hermit, you will find yourself in new social situations from time to time. As a self-proclaimed flag-bearer of introverts working in a very extroverted industry (sales in financial services), I’ve found that planning ahead for events and large gatherings is crucial to maintaining my sense of personal comfort while letting me do my job well. 

In my work, attending and networking at industry conferences is a fairly regular feature. I’ve developed a few strategies that work for me but the key really is planning ahead. I always have a plan in mind for what I want to achieve from the event (besides just getting done with it). I’ll set small targets for myself – instead of setting a goal of meeting 20 new people, I’ll break that down into mini-goals. Meet 5 new people, then once that is done, focus on 5 more, and so on. By now, I have a few non-work related simple questions that I keep in my back pocket to initiate/keep conversations going. A couple of my favorites are “What is exciting for you these days?” and “What are you looking forward to this year/next 6 months?”. They work in both a work and non-work context when talking to people. 

Through some bit of trial and error, I’ve found my own way of navigating new social situations or events with lots of new people. But like I said, it’s important for me to plan ahead so that I can approach them with a sense of quiet self-assurance and avoid the overwhelm.

I don’t know about you, but I find quiet confidence to be an extremely attractive sign in a person. It’s a hallmark of someone who’s done – and is doing – the work, whose sense of self-worth is not tied to constant external validation, and someone who’s comfortable in their own skin and being who they are. Quiet confidence might not always steal the show, but it sure does make a lasting impression!

If you’re lacking in the confidence department, fret not! Like most life skills, it’s not something that you necessarily have to be born with, but of course, you can learn and develop along the way. 

I’ll leave you with one fun question – what public figures or fictional characters come to your mind when you think of quietly confident people? I’ll go first – Keanu Reeves (he’s like the epitome of quiet confidence), Charlize Theron, Meryl Streep, Atticus Finch, Meredith Grey, Captain America, T’Challa, and of course, Mr. Miyagi. Your turn now! Let me know in the comments below.

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