How to tell the difference between arrogance and confidence

There may seem to be a thin line separating arrogance from self-confidence, but the two are very different personality traits

Businessman wearing a crown sitting at desk, arrogance

So many people confuse arrogance for confidence. Arrogant behaviour is toxic and causes trauma and chaos, hurting others. Clearing up any misunderstandings you may have about confidence and arrogance will help you steer clear of those who are arrogant. It is also crucial to keep the halogen light shining on your own behaviour to ensure you are developing confidence and not arrogance.

Arrogance vs confidence examples

  • Ignoring and denying any areas of weakness, versus accepting and admitting weaknesses
  • Pointing out someone’s shortcomings, subtly or overtly, versus championing and supporting others
  • Showing off versus possessing humility
  • Making everything about competition versus making everything about creating value for others
  • Needing to act cool versus being comfortable with who you are
  • Being unreasonable versus being flexible and understanding
  • Being commanding and dominating versus being assertive yet compassionate
  • Often being unapproachable versus always being approachable
  • Interrupting others, versus being an effective listener
  • Swaggering when walking versus having a commanding presence with open body language
  • Cockiness about accomplishments versus being humble around success
  • Striving to always be right versus striving to find a solution
  • Being constantly opinionated versus constantly being willing to listen to others’ viewpoints
  • Obsessive about image versus taking pride in appearance
  • Never admitting mistakes versus always being accountable to themselves
  • Positioning themselves as superior versus viewing everyone as an equal
  • Offering unsolicited advice, versus offering feedback when it’s requested
  • Arrogance=Adolf Hitler versus Confidence= Nelson Mandela

T’ien-t’ai, a sixth-century Chinese Buddhist scholar, declared those in a state of anger as “always desiring to be superior to others”, offensively displaying self-importance and superiority. He stated that anger is akin to arrogance and may be described as frustrated arrogance.

The roots of arrogance

Arrogance is a deep fear of vulnerability. Many of us were persecuted as children by being made fun of at school or at home and so we grow up deeply insecure. The stereotypically arrogant person will always put others down, thinking that, if they do, the other person won‘t have the opportunity to put them down. I am a recovered ‘diva’, so take it from me – if you recognise yourself as having arrogant traits, do something about it. Arrogance stems from the ego, and includes a feeling of both self-contempt and contempt for others. Arrogant people feel the need to show you that they can do better than you. That they know more than you. They have an insolent pride and overbearing manner that often upsets a lot of people. That manner stems from deep insecurity, and a lack of confidence. They don’t value themselves and so they need to keep blowing their own trumpet. Arrogance is unmerited confidence. Many arrogant people display a type of shyness, because they feel that if they hide away no one will see their flaws, so they won’t be judged or criticised. However, they will always jump in with unfair and inaccurate criticism of other people.

Arrogance vs Confidence: How to spot the difference

It’s important for me to add that sometimes people who dominate the conversation are only nervous and not necessarily arrogant. Also, people might drop names to impress you because they feel insecure; it isn’t always because they are arrogant. The way to spot the difference is to look at whether they possess empathy or compassion, which only confident people possess. It is always helpful to learn skills to deal with arrogance because we can’t always avoid it. But in a social setting I recommend you stay away, as arrogant people can cause pain, especially if you get involved with them romantically. Be aware: if you question arrogant people they will react badly, don’t take their reaction personally, though, as it’s about their inability to control you.

So many people who lack confidence want to hang out with ‘cool’ arrogant people who are famous, extremely rich or good-looking and who use fake charm [which evaporates if you anger them]. Sadly these people are not achieving anything great in their own lives and are living vicariously through the other person. Arrogant people will get into character assassination behind your back, joke about people they really shouldn’t joke about, and lack empathy if someone is going through a hard time even though they may pretend to care. They themselves have been hurt badly in their past and, instead of resolving or addressing the issue, they hide it behind a mask. If they are rumbled, they deliver those old classic lines: “I was only joking”, or “Stop being so sensitive.”

It amazes me when someone who can’t sing to save their life or has never taken a risk criticises performers on The X Factor. They think it’s clever to be offensive and they generally have little insight because they are so wrapped up in themselves. The truth is that they like to control everyone which is a form of emotional abuse. If you have experienced this controlling behaviour when you were young you won’t spot it easily because it will be familiar, and, in a perverse way, comfortable, because it is what you are used to.

How Stephen moved from arrogance to confidence

“I joined a city law firm as a graduate and believed I knew more than the senior partners ignoring the tips and advice I was offered. I alienated many of my colleagues with my behaviour. I had been told as a child I was better than every one as they thought that was instilling confidence in me. I couldn’t admit to any mistakes which was where the problem lay. Five years on, I now see how being arrogant cost me so much, both personally and professionally. I am now a partner in a law firm; and having spent five years investing in self-development I now cringe when I see others play out my old behaviour.”

Stephen’s top tips

  • Stop measuring your own value by externals
  • Let go of the need to be right and to always have the last word
  • Admit your own shortcomings to yourself
  • Let go of the need to be superior

Uncovering the essence of confidence

The Tao Te Ching says:

To understand others is to have knowledge
To understand oneself us to be illuminated
To conquer others needs strength
To conquer oneself is harder still
To be content with what one has is to be rich

Confident people are rich as they have self-belief, open hearts and treat others with respect. Confident people accept themselves so they accept others as they are. Confident employers love having confident people working for them and people love being around confident people socially as they are so comfortable with themselves. Even an enemy or competitor secretly admires a self-confident person. In a relationship, the confident partner is aware of what needs to be discussed and communicates changes in a healthy way.

How to keep a check on yourself

  • Develop a checklist to determine any shortcomings you may have. By compiling an inventory you will heighten your awareness and evaluate whether you are acting arrogantly
  • Focus on clear intentions so you can contribute daily to your commitment to change
  • Make a list of qualities you admire in others
  • Focus on fixing yourself rather than fixing others
  • Exercise humility and keep checking that you are on the confidence side of the “Confidence vs Arrogance” war
Adapted with permission from The Confidence Factor by Annie Ashdown published by Jaico Publishing House

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