Arrogance is repugnant; but confidence is adored and sought after. With the two characteristics sharing a somewhat similar footing, though, how can you tell the difference between them? And at what point do you morph from self-belief, to self-delusion, to flat-out narcissism? The line is not always clear, but when you boil these two personality types down, their differences do begin to emerge.
How is confidence different than arrogance?
We live in a culture that values confidence, which is often thought to be the underlying foundation behind success. Confidence, as Eric Ravenscourt wrote for Lifehacker in 2013, is “knowing what you’re good at, the value you provide, and acting in a way that conveys that to others.”
Confident people might toe the line between self-assuredness and cockiness, but they’re always going to tame the bravado just enough to avoid emitting an arrogant vibe. For one, a confident person might be willing to laud their own skills, but they still will take the time to listen to other people, and receive feedback or constructive criticism.
Moreover, confident people are inclined to highlight the success of others, since they’re not afraid of other people earning plaudits. As the workplace consultancy Emerald Works explained in 2019, confident people are generous—arrogant people are not. In the workplace, you might understand the two opposing examples thusly:
In meetings, for example, arrogant people generally seek the spotlight. Consciously or unconsciously, they make others feel less important. They might use condescending language, talk over people, or display body language that shows a lack of interest in others.
Conversely, confident people may shine a light on their colleagues’ achievements in meetings or in group work. They ask for input, encourage teamwork, and generously praise their co-workers.
One way to look at it involves the relationships between those who are confident and arrogant with other people. Those who are confident understand their abilities and talents, but they seek to use those attributes to better those around them. They might do this through teaching and leading by example, or maybe via rhetorical support and encouragement.
People who are arrogant, conversely, really only seek to promote themselves. They exhibit a pretty blatant lack of humility when their skills or authority is questioned, and they don’t really have time to seriously consider any criticism that comes their way.
These two qualities can seem similar when viewed in the context of someone merely talking about themselves—but it’s their relationships with other people that expose their true colors.
How to let your confidence shine through
If you’ve chosen confidence over arrogance (first, good on you), there are ways you can make this more apparent to those around you. Aside from the intrinsic self-belief that you’ve perhaps cultivated over years of honing your skills (or perhaps it’s your raw talent), you can exude confidence by welcoming the prospect of learning even more.
Take criticism—whether it’s on the job, from friends, your romantic partner, whomever—and use it as a motivational tool. You can be assured in your self-belief, but accepting that there’s always more to learn will separate you from those who exude arrogance. You should also feel comfortable leading by example and helping others learn. Your knowledge and skills can be used for the benefit of anyone who’s willing to learn, and knowing that will help you come off as healthy and confident, rather than arrogant.