Define Confidence & Arrogance: Finding Balance

Sandra Hunter

It is important to define confidence and arrogance because they look like they’re on opposite ends of the social spectrum.

There’s a strong emotional response to both words.

Think about it.

Would you rather be described as arrogant or confident?

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According to Merriam-Webster, there are several ways to define confidence.

The most relevant one is a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or reliance on one’s circumstances.

The definition of arrogance is an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims or assumptions.

How do I strike the balance between confidence and arrogance?

Ultimately, the real question is:  How do we talk about ourselves?

And, more specifically, how do we talk about ourselves without becoming a snorting conversation hog?

Two examples:

1: Your carefully organized and rehearsed presentation is in full swing when your boss interrupts with a ten-minute monologue about her new Ferrari and how it goes from zero to eighty in …



She’s bragging, wasting everyone’s time with something irrelevant, and disrespecting you.

(The confident response: Calmly wait for a break in the Ferrari onslaught and bring the meeting back to your presentation. This is a completely acceptable redirection toward the relevant focus.)

2: You’re introduced at a leadership conference and asked to give a twenty-second introduction to a recent project so people will know key points about you.

You give a brief, succinct description of a recent successful project in which you oversaw a team of eight employees.

This, in turn, led to the company acquiring funding for two more projects.

You end your intro with praise for the team effort.


Big yes!

The achievement is relevant to the conference and introduces you as a competent and creative leader who will have relevant input during conference discussions and seminars.

Plus, you’ve given credit to your team.

Extra points!

Do you know how to talk?

We text, message, post, and chat on the phone.

But do you know how to talk, face to face, with people in real-time?

Because a lot of daily interaction is tech-based, we can get nervous about face-to-face talking, especially to those we don’t know.

Sometimes this leads to over-talking or under-talking.

Like a healthy diet, we must know how to talk in moderation.

What does that mean when trying to define confidence?

Surely less talking means less focus on you—isn’t that less confidence?

Not at all!

Talking less can actually emphasize your confidence.

Asking questions and encouraging others to talk shows confidence: you don’t constantly need to talk about yourself.

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Talking with colleagues

Even if it feels a bit awkward, make a plan to be the one who reaches out.

Stop by someone’s cubicle/office/sofa and ask how they’re doing.

You don’t need to grill them on specific details.

Your questions should be broad enough that they (a) show genuine interest and (b) don’t appear nosey.

Arrogance: “You’ve got the X part of the project, but I’ve got the Y part, which takes up much more time. The overtime I’ve logged in over the last month is incredible. I do not know how to find time to go skiing at Aspen in January. So how exactly did you organize your spreadsheet?Can I see?”


Oh, man.

Let me count the ways.

This person barely acknowledges that the other one is dealing with a lot of work before s/he steamrollers in with how much work s/he is doing—and then shoves the skiing trip in the other person’s face while inappropriately asking to share information.

Confidence: “The X part of this project must be incredibly research heavy. You’ve really been working hard.”

This acknowledges the workload and hard work but doesn’t ask specific questions.

All of us like to have our hard work acknowledged.

It also emphasizes the person being addressed—not the speaker

You demonstrate genuine interest by keeping in touch with your colleagues, solidifying a stable work environment.

That’s the definition of confidence!

Avoid being competitive

Arrogance: “Oh, I thought of that months ago/If you’d just listen to me/The only way for this project to succeed is to follow my plan…”

This draws the listener’s attention to the speaker and not the idea.

Confidence: “X idea might work well for this project. We used a similar approach in my Y project a couple of months ago, and they’ve had promising results, according to the recent report.”

This directs the listener to the idea and reports on previous documented success.

The word “my” alerts the listener to the fact that this is your idea, while the rest of the address goes to the idea itself.

In this scenario, the speaker will also be open to plan modifications.

Arrogance: “What do you mean you want to change my plan? I’ve been working on this for months, and now you …”

This speaker takes the suggestion personally and is only concerned about their feelings.

Confidence: “That’s an interesting idea. Let me work it in and get back to you.”

This speaker is confident about her/his plan and doesn’t consider the suggestion a personal insult.

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And—extra points—s/he is willing to do the work to incorporate the new idea and develop the plan!

Defining confidence in social situations

Groups: Don’t be a social road drill.

We’ve all been at those parties when someone tells a story about some accomplishment or a funny incident.

The congratulations or laughter has barely died down before someone else leaps into the ring to show off their story that’s always better/funnier than the previous one.

And so it becomes a type of competition instead of a conversation.

This is conversational assault and battery—avoid it!

Arrogance: The speaker will deliver a series of stories to demonstrate how strong/fit/funny/hardworking they are.

Their main focus is to keep talking so they stay the center of attention.

Confidence: The speaker will attempt to draw out the quieter people in the group and get them to tell their stories or voice their opinions.

If the Road Drill tries to interrupt, the confident speaker will firmly draw the conversation back.

Confident person: Hey Arlene, remember that time when you …

Arlene: Well, it was last year.

I was the last one at work and …

Road Drill: That reminds me of when I was at Harvard …

Confident person: That’s great—but maybe we could hear Arlene’s story first.

This does several things: It emphasizes that Arlene, a quiet person, has something valuable to say.

It denies the Road Drill the chance to dominate the conversation and establishes the speaker’s confidence.

The chances are that once the quieter people start talking, they can easily foil one person trying to dominate the conversation.

More importantly – everyone has a good time!

One-on-one: Ask questions here, too.

Make the other person feel important.

Use eye contact to show that you want to talk to them instead of looking over their shoulder for someone more interesting.

Make each instance of eye contact for about 3-5 seconds, especially when you’re asking questions.

Longer eye contact is for close friends and lovers!

Arrogance: Sometimes, this speaker will use a question or comment to leverage him/herself into the spotlight:

“That’s a great sweater. It reminds me of the sweater I used to wear at Yale.”

And that’s about the time when people start making excuses to get another drink, rescue their laundry, or pet goat

Confidence: The speaker will demonstrate a genuine interest in the other person: “That’s a great sweater—the color suits you.”

The other person knows it’s a true compliment.

Dress to impress—who?

Sometimes, such as meeting important clients or giving conference presentations, you need to up your outfit game.

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But mostly, you’re doing the day-to-day routine, and while some jobs require professional clothing, most are okay with standard smart.

As with talking, put yourself in the other person’s platforms or oxfords.

Imagine you’re seeing someone dressed in your outfit.

What’s your reaction?

Arrogance: The person dresses to emphasize their weight loss, gym routine, bulging wallet, or overwhelmingly expensive/elitist fashion tastes.

This person will seek to buy more so s/he can continue to maintain this image.

Confidence: The person dresses practically, with a genuine love for whatever it is that makes them, personally, feel good.

A confident person isn’t afraid of wearing the same piece more than once a month or week.

S/he knows s/he looks and feels attractive in it.

Defining confidence in terms of relationships:

Be aware that your partner is 50% of the relationship.

Anything you need to communicate should be done directly.

Leaving your sweetie, who is clearly upset about something, and then texting him/her, “Hope you’re okay?” is cowardly and arrogant.

Confidence is all about open dialogue, with mutual listening guaranteed.

When one person needs to talk about something, the other partner will give that time without a checks-and-balances attitude.

Arrogance: The person withholds their feelings or assumes they know their partner’s needs or preferences—or even ignores them completely because it’s easier to send seemingly interested texts in between bouts of World of Warcraft

Confidence: The person encourages dialogue, expresses their own feelings, and admits they’re wrong.

Yes—the wrrr…word.

If you can admit to being wrong, apologize, and change faulty behavior, you’re demonstrating a significantly evolved confidence level!

You might be well on your way to defining confidence and balancing the fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Can you define confidence and arrogance?

Arrogance relies on proving strength, appearance, and finances to others.

It requires regular affirmation.

Arrogant people only feel okay when they are the focus of attention.

It also requires that others appear inferior to demonstrate their own superiority.

Confidence makes decisions that don’t rely on others’ responses.

It’s alert to others while calmly asserting itself.

It has an internal knowledge of strengths without inflicting them on others.

True confidence is paying attention, listening well, knowing when to stand firm, and when to make changes where needed.

Arrogance demonstrates a lack of true confidence!

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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Sandra Hunter
Bio: Sandra Hunter offers individual and group workshops in effective interpersonal workplace communication and body language. She is also an award-winning fiction writer
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