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How to Make Sure Your Confidence Isn’t Mistaken for Arrogance

Confidence at Work

Fake it ’til you make it.

That’s the career advice often given when a promising new hopeful enters the world of business. It has its place amongst the other inspiring slogans that fill the walls of offices around the country. For visionaries fanning the flames of fledgling businesses, faking confidence may be essential. First-of-its-kind products and wildly fresh ideas don’t come with a ton of role models to mimic.

But where does that leave the rest of us? Exuding confidence—especially when it comes to your professional life—isn’t just as easy as marching into work in hopes that one day you’ll feel as awesome as your strut looks.

The challenge of being confident is that it’s a two-part thing. According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, confidence has an “external face” and an “internal face”—and these faces aren’t necessarily mirror images of one another.

Tomas says the external face of confidence seems a lot like extroversion—think chatty, outgoing, and leaderly. But the internal face may have those same qualities without projecting them (and sometimes, the internal face is totally shy). With such positive qualities associated with extroversion, it makes sense that an average person would push their external face to overcompensate for internal insecurities. But it’s also possible to reach the point of going too far.

These four tips will help you learn to walk the walk without crossing into arrogant territory.

1. Don’t use lines that could alienate yourself

Faking confidence until you’ve got it isn’t always a bad thing. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, seeming competent counts just as much as qualifications.

Let’s say a few solid one-liners are part of your act. While “Nah, I don’t need a partner, I can handle this myself” or “Why get help when I’m the best one for the job?” ooze confidence, they’re power statements that may not gel with everyone. Imagine saying something like this to a potential assistant or boss looking to grow the team. Instead of sounding like a competent go-getter, you may come off as a rogue employee looking out for her own best interests.

To keep from falling into this situation, adjust your confidence-boosting statements to your audience. Chatter amongst co-workers is completely different from the chatter that happens at an industry meetup. You never know when you’re slated for a new opportunity. Going on about your independence and clear professional direction may deter others from walking that path with you.

2. Learn to process what you hear

Raise your hand if you know someone who always butts in during a meeting. Moment of silence for all the awkward interruptions experienced in conference rooms around the world.

No matter how amazing your idea or joke is, you have to listen to what others say before and after your comment. There’s a huge difference between truly listening and just waiting for your turn to speak again.

If your confidence strategy includes lots of conversing, make sure you build on what someone else said before you. Anyone can carry on meaningless chitchat. Affirming someone else’s statement and building on it by adding your idea will help your internal face match the external awesomeness you’re projecting.

3. Ask questions that lead to collaborations

Asking questions not only gives you face time with team members or higher-ups, it also lets you practice both vulnerability and public speaking. A strong tactic is weaving your opinion into a question, which shows you’ve thought about the inquiry and maybe even added a solution to boot.

Try, “Do you prefer that I just flag your important emails, or draft templates for all responses so you don’t have to write them yourself?”

The trick here is that drafting templates is a timesaver for your boss, but it also demonstrates your problem-solving skills and willingness to collaborate. The question still needed to be asked, but imagine how it could’ve played out: “I can zip through these emails in half an hour, would you like me to?” “Yep, thanks”—and that would be the end of it.

While your quick solution and Ninja-like typing skills may be cool in that moment, this basic transaction will likely be repeated many times in the future. Using your own idea to influence the relationship and build a long-term solution is something more concrete to be proud of. And this inclusive approach will keep others from thinking you think you’re too good to meet halfway.

4. Don’t discount what came before you

This one seems like a given, but marching into the joint with your change-guns a-blazin’ will make arrogance the least of your problems.

True confidence may mean you have great ideas, validation from colleagues, and an impressive track record. But you can’t crush the professional infrastructure built before you. If a team feels like you’re only out to make the organization another professional trophy, they won’t respect your confidence. They’ll think of it as a threat to their own—and the team they’ve grown.

In the administrative world, this situation could be anything from creating a training program to handling executive travel. Even if your way is newer-faster-better, use the inquiring technique above to make your ideas heard as an option—not an end-all.

Previous procedures or workflows exist for a reason. Being mindful of them helps you contribute without dictating. Trying to seem like an all-knowing administrative goddess by changing everything your co-workers have done will definitely push you past leaderly and into arrogance territory.

Truly confident professionals don’t need to overcompensate by tossing out haughty phrases, getting an extra word in, or taking the wheel on every internal project. By rephrasing and dialing back the way you choose to present yourself, you’ll catch confident-showmanship-turned-arrogance before people around you do first.

Are you a Ninja with buckets of confidence (or trying to build a bucketful)? How do you make sure you don’t step on toes?


  1. Look around you. Recognize that people are going through way heavier issues than you, where your burdens begin to pale in comparison. That builds compassion, humility and makes us more vulnerable, which really has been so revealing to me esp in my work.

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