It’s a fine line and one that’s very easy to cross. Tread beyond it and you’re seen as arrogant. Stay within it and you come across as confident.

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line? When should your alarm bells start ringing? How do you know if your behaviour is being seen as confidence or arrogance?

Let me give you an example;

When I first met Andy he came across as very confident. He spoke clearly and had no problem sharing his thoughts. However, he struggled to succeed at interviews.

He’d been a security officer at Manchester airport for six years. He wanted a change and was keen to move into the operations team. He applied for the new role and thought he’d done well at the interview. He had quite a shock when he found out he’d failed it.

The feedback? He was told his ‘strong personality’ didn’t suit the role.

So what went wrong?

Some people would describe Andy as ‘over-confident’. In a physical sense he put his views across clearly and ‘confidently’ but something was missing. His body language and manner were so assertive that they gave the impression he was making presumptions about his strengths and abilities. To some people it even seemed like he was boasting.

This was exactly how he had come across at the interview. It looked to the interviewer as though he was just assuming he would get the job.

Andy thought he came across confidently but the interviewer perceived him to be cocky and arrogant.

He didn’t get the job as a result of it.

So what should he have done?

When he reflected on what had happened, Andy realised he’d completely dominated the interview; he’d even started ‘selling’ himself before being asked the first question. He thought he was taking the initiative and acting confidently but the interviewer perceived his behaviour completely differently.

Andy was trying to be assertive but he crossed the line. His behaviour was seen as arrogant.

His mistake? He should have been listening more. Not alone did he give the interviewer little opportunity to ask questions but he also failed to listen properly when the questions did come.

Being over assertive can easily be perceived as arrogance and sometimes even aggression.

Confidence or arrogance – how do you make sure you are seen as confident?

Ultimately, it’s a balancing act. You want to come across confidently but you don’t want to be seen as arrogant.

People with true confidence never make the assumption they are always right. They find a way to reconcile this by taking account of other peoples’ thoughts, opinions and needs.

They understand that true confidence has a ‘passive’ side to it.

Arrogant people don’t communicate this. They show no interest in or concern for others. They give this away by not listening. When someone is talking, arrogant people are thinking about what they themselves are going to say next, not what the other person is saying. It doesn’t take long for people to realise this … and then to form a negative opinion of them.

People with true confidence show empathy, and if necessary humility, by listening attentively and giving other people a chance to share their thoughts. They accept they could be wrong too. A truly confident person can admit to mistakes and accept their vulnerabilities. Arrogant people really struggle with this.

What’s the true test? Confidence or Arrogance?

As a check mechanism, try reflecting on the way you come across. If you find yourself constantly boasting, trying to impress people or talking about yourself without ever showing any genuine interest in others, you’ve got the balance wrong. There’s a good chance you’ll be seen as arrogant.

For me, people with true self-confidence communicate this through balancing active and passive actions; active actions involve speaking confidently and passive actions involve listening attentively. Genuinely confident people are conscious of their strengths and feel good about themselves BUT they don’t feel the need to boast about it or compare themselves to others. You could describe them as truly ‘Assertive’.

A natural next step …

It’s possible that the instinctive way you come across could be to blame if some people describe you as arrogant. If you’re loud, direct and forthright when you speak, it may well be that people who have a more considerate and quiet style are the ones most likely to perceive arrogance in the way you come across.

If you’re not sure about your instinctive communication style, use our Free Communication Style Questionnaire to find it out.

Once you’re clear about your natural style and how strong it is, it might make sense to tweak it with certain people so that they don’t perceive you as arrogant. You’ll find out how to do this (and a whole lot more) when you get your results from the questionnaire.

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