How to be Confident Without Being Arrogant in the Workplace

There was a popular song titled “Confident” that caught my ear some years ago. In the chorus of the song, the artist simply poses this question “what’s wrong with being confident?” The short answer is nothing! In fact, confidence is something we admire in other people and want for ourselves. But we have a problem when being confident becomes arrogance. 

Identifying colleagues, bosses, friends, and acquaintances who are arrogant is easy. However, seeing this trait in ourselves and making sure our confidence doesn’t breed arrogance is another battle entirely. As young professionals and students, we must know the difference between arrogance and confidence so we can work and interact with others confidently and humbly. After all, we only get one first impression.

various people collaborating in a busy office environment with cubicles

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The Difference Between Arrogance and Confidence

As a business consultant for three years, one of the principal skills or characteristics I developed was confidence. On my first project, I was so scared of messing up or saying something wrong that I wouldn’t speak at all during meetings.

Skip ahead a handful of projects, and I was assigned to be a team Lead for a 9-month project. Not only would I need to provide guidance to my direct reports, but I also had to talk to the client regularly, host meetings, make recommendations, and defend my point of view. At first, I was terrified, especially about being the go-to person for the client’s questions about change management.

During the project, I was not yet a change management expert. I relied heavily on mentors and colleagues to support and guide me and had to learn a lot along the way. But the client never knew that because I exuded confidence in every interaction. By the end of the project, the client and I had a great relationship and was willing to recommend me for future projects.

Being confident is a good thing

From this experience, I realized that being a good consultant wasn’t about how many years of experience I had (at that point I had two years) or how much I talked or how many certifications I had. It was confidence in my client interactions. 

Whether I did or didn’t know things, I was confident. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions or seek help. I was confident in my team and delegated work to them. These were the keys to my success. But why didn’t my confidence turn into arrogance? 

Before diving into the difference between arrogance and confidence, it’s important to understand why sometimes confidence feels like arrogance.

What makes someone arrogant?

The dictionary says the meaning of arrogance is having an exaggerated or inflated sense of one’s importance or abilities. Synonyms of arrogant are conceited, haughty, self-important, condescending, egotistic, and full of oneself. Those who are arrogant typically hog the praise for themselves or look down on others.

Many things can make someone arrogant or cocky, but the biggest difference between arrogance and confidence is the heart and motivation of the person. 

People are arrogant often because they lack confidence and self-assurance. Thus, they need to constantly have validation from others or put others down so they look better.

Signs of arrogance with examples

Other signs of arrogance include:

  • Taking credit for all or most of the work when it was a team effort
  • Constantly talking over other people and not giving others a chance to speak
  • Being unable to celebrate others accomplishments and truly be happy when others succeed
  • Being upset or annoyed that people don’t know as much as you do
  • Multitasking or being distracted when people are talking to you
  • Inability to take constructive criticism or feedback 
  • Majority of conversations with others are about you

However, even knowing what arrogance is and different signs of arrogance, I’ve found that an arrogant attitude can still sneak up on us. One of the examples of arrogance from my own life is when I was a team lead for a project. At first, I refused to delegate work to my team. Quickly, doing everything myself turned into an impossible task; I was extremely stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to maintain work life balance and work boundaries

Stepping back, I thought it was confidence that was driving my behavior. I knew what I was doing, and I knew how I wanted things done so I should do it myself. In reality, I was being arrogant by keeping such a tight rein on things. I was acting as if I was the only one who could work on these tasks, and I was preventing my direct reports from learning anything, being challenged at work, or acquiring new skills. 

In this example and other examples of arrogance, the self-centered mentality had negative consequences for both me and my direct reports. I’m grateful that I figured out I was being arrogant, but I wish I had known sooner. It would have saved me a lot of time and frustration. 

In this situation, confidence felt like arrogance. But knowing the difference between confidence and arrogance became vital to recognizing my arrogant attitude. 

What causes arrogance?

These examples of arrogance all point to the difference between arrogance and confidence and its cause: insecurity.

It’s a sad truth that the most arrogant and prideful, who toot their own horn and seek constant approval from others, may actually be hurting inside. Without self-assurance or self-confidence, boasting about themselves or acting condescending toward others are the only ways to survive. It protects them from being vulnerable or facing their weaknesses. 

Arrogance is fueled by unresolved insecurities.

How do I know if I’m arrogant?

In the Bible, Jesus talks about how the Pharisees can spot a speck of dust in another person’s eyes but miss the plank in their own eyes (Matt 7:3). In the same way, it’s easy to spot signs of arrogance in others yet hard to recognize arrogance in your own life.

But as we are all human and flawed, we all have (or will exhibit) characteristics of an arrogant person. Here are 4 more concrete ways to know if you are arrogant:

  1. Ask someone you trust and who observes you in your work environment for feedback. Do they think you are arrogant? Why? In what situations do you show signs of arrogance?
  2. Observe your own behavior in the workplace. Are you talking down to others or building them up? Do you talk over people or unknowingly shift the conversation to talking about yourself? When your team succeeds, do you talk only about what you did or include your team’s contributions?
  3. Reflect on your personal motivations. Are you confident in your ability to do your job or have you been feeling insecure lately? What’s causing your insecurity?
  4. Pray for direction and for God to reveal your heart. Arrogance is rooted in pride, and God says in his word that he despises the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5b). God wants us to be humble and rely on him instead of our own strength. Who are you relying on for success in your career? 

How to be Confident without being Arrogant

Even without knowing the difference between arrogance and confidence, we know from dealing with other arrogant people that arrogance is not a good thing. Yet, as I demonstrated in my story about confidence as a young professional, great things happen when we are confident. This brings us to the question: how to be confident without being arrogant.

How do you separate confidence from arrogance?

First, confidence is not arrogance nor is it arrogant to be confident. Confidence is defined as a feeling of self-assurance from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. Some synonyms of confidence are faith in oneself, poise, level-headedness, and certainty. 

Confidence differs from arrogance in motivation and action. When it comes to arrogance, everything is about YOU because you’re insecure about who you are or your abilities. 

But confidence means everything does NOT have to be about you because you’re secure in who you are.

It isn’t arrogant to be confident, poised, or certain of your abilities. You can be self-assured without bragging about yourself, hogging the spotlight, putting others down, or being arrogant.

Related: Valuable Career Advice for Young Professionals Starting their Careers

Difference between arrogance and self-confidence

The difference between arrogance and self-confidence is where your confidence comes from. If you are self-assured and confident in your abilities, then you don’t need praise or validation from people to confirm that. Neither must you strive to be the best by making others look bad. 

The key to maintaining this (and truly recognizing the difference between self confidence and arrogance) is knowing in your heart and your mind that your identity doesn’t come from anything other than Jesus Christ. You are not your job and work is not your only identity. It’s when we need others’ approval and validation that we begin to live an arrogant life. We start adopting arrogant tendencies to protect our fragile identity. 

But the only firm identity is the one given to us by Jesus, as a loved, child of God who belongs to Him. He loves us not because of our achievements, successes, or good works. Thus, we are free to be confident in our God-given talents, perform our work well, and leave the rest to Him.

Can confidence be mistaken for arrogance?

Even when you’re living secure in your Christian identity and are confident in your abilities, other people may mistake your confidence for arrogance.

In situations like this, you’ll want to respond carefully and calmly. Remember that the difference between arrogance and confidence is a fine line. So before responding, accept the feedback and examine the motivations of your heart. Is there truth to what the other person is saying?

At the same time, you must be on guard. When others are insecure, lacking confidence, or being arrogant, they may dislike or even envy your confidence. That’s why it’s important to speak to a mentor or someone you trust about whether or not your behavior is arrogant. 

Sadly, the person who has mistaken your confidence for arrogance may just want to ruin your confidence. Don’t let them.

The difference between arrogance and confidence is empathy

The last thought I leave you with about the difference between arrogance and confidence is empathy. Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person without having experienced the same situation. Additionally, being empathetic means being aware and attuned to the needs and feelings of others. To do that, empathetic people must exhibit these characteristics spelled out in James: good listeners, slow talkers, and not easily angered.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Arrogance vs. Confidence

If after reading this article, you’re still struggling to understand the difference between confidence and arrogance, ask yourself if you have empathy for your coworkers, customers, managers, and others who work around you. You can still be confident in your skills and knowledge while caring for those around you. 

A young professional with this attitude lets their own work shine and embodies the attitude of a team-player. A confident but not arrogant person trusts that God will raise up the humble in his timing and for his purposes.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

confident young white woman hands crossed behind her head

The Fine Line between Arrogance vs. Confidence

This past week as I was preparing for the start of my PhD program, I was lacking confidence. In my advisor’s office, I expressed feelings of dread and anxiety for the new school year. My advisor graciously reminded me of the reasons that she had faith in me. 

She said I was hard-working, disciplined, good at managing my time, and willing to learn and be coached. But more importantly than her kind words about her work ethic was her reminder that “Kara, you don’t have to be perfect.”

As a recovering perfectionist, I was deeply comforted by her last statement. I realized another difference between arrogance and confidence is what you’re working for. Are you trying to be the best or just do your best? If it’s the latter, then you can rest assured that God will give you the strength you need to succeed. If it’s the former, then let me encourage you to take your insecurities to God and instead let Him be your confidence. 

Are you arrogant or confident?

Leave me a comment below!

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