The difference between Confidence and Arrogance

A number of you have worried aloud with me that you don’t want to assert yourself so much that you become “that guy”. You know the person who is perceived … and reviled as arrogant.

You asked what is the difference between being confident and arrogant and how do we navigate that? It is a great question, one that made me pause and think.

So first of all, I went back to get clear on the specifics being measured under Arrogant on the TLC 360. Their research names it as behaviours like: talking a lot, listening poorly, being self-involved and better-than, attached to my-way-is-the-right-way and investing in big and flashy efforts so that they reflect well on you.

In other words, making it all about you. Making yourself most important…. bigger-than and … in the process, others small, less-than. Arrogant is in the reactive tendencies on the bottom-half of the 360 graph because it is driven by doubt and insecurity.

And Confidence? What I noticed came up with the people I polled is that we know we are in the presence of confidence because the connection feels authentic and real. The opposite of empty and shallow.

Confidence is a certainty and trust in our gifts and perhaps, the process. It is also that place of genuinely respecting others for what they bring to the table as well as being humble and discerning about all you do and don’t know and transparent about mistakes. It feels spacious and generous and positive.

And so I went and asked my successful friends what they know about the difference between confidence and arrogance and their answers were resoundingly similar.

One friend, a world record holder paralympian, reminded me that a certain amount of self-absorption is actually required to be successful. But then, when it becomes all about you, the success becomes harder to sustain.

He told us about being in a personal slump last winter and yet had four huge international races coming up in a two week span. He had been going thru the motions of training his body but didn’t have his heart in it. And then he became connected with a little girl on the other side of the world who was suffering from the same disease he’d had as a child. He was deeply moved…and that got him moving. Wanting to win the races for her gave him renewed purpose and strength.


That feels true to me too. When I am confident, I am not worrying about me. I am not self absorbed in any way (either negatively or positively!) Instead, I have something bigger than me that is compelling me forward. A purpose, a goal, an outcome … perhaps that will benefit more than just me.

Another friend, a self-made multi-millionaire, reminded me that confidence can still be perceived as arrogance. Afterall, we are all living in our own worlds of assumptions and beliefs and limitations and values. And we judge others accordingly. So when confident, you may indeed trigger someone’s judgment that you are arrogant. And frankly, it is a risk you will just have to take.

Walking around trying to avoid the judgment of others is a futile, unfulfilling effort. We are all judging machines going about our lives trying to make sense of our world. Assessing things as good or bad is what we do. So we will incur the judgment of others; it’s inevitable.

The good news is we can be conscious of this and adjust our behaviour if need be - whether our arrogance is perceived or real! Because I do think it is a very human thing to slip into arrogance. There are so many real things that happen that have us become self absorbed. So first off, we can cut ourselves some slack for when it does happen. Really. That is important. We are human.

An internet entrepreneur buddy was really clear that with me that when she slides into arrogance, she knows it’s time to stop faking it. Stop trying so hard. Be transparent about what is going on - at the very least - with herself.

So the conscious calibration towards confidence becomes:

a) forgive ourselves when we slip into self-absorption
b) get real with ourselves – and them
c) get re-connected to the bigger picture : what we are doing and why. As well as what we know and don’t know -  and the truth about needing to rely and trust and be genuinely connected - to those around us

I am interested in what you think of this distinction? What would you add to the conversation?

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