The Difference Between Confidence And Arrogance In The Workplace

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the difference between confidence and arrogance in the workplace

The Difference Between Confidence And Arrogance In The Workplace

Everyone talks about being more confident, but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance – especially in the workplace. Much of this comes down to how you are communicating.  Things like your tone, your body language, your word choice can impact whether or not you are coming across as arrogant or confident.

So how can you tell the difference between confidence and arrogance?  And what can you do to make sure that you showcasing yourself in the best light?

1. Tone And Body Language

Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. Be mindful of how you’re speaking so it’s not coming off as:

Sarcastic – There is a time and place for sarcasm, but generally the workplace isn’t it. Yes, you can enjoy sarcasm with your peers as you eat lunch.  But, in a meeting?  It’s not a good look. Keep the sarcasm where it belongs as it can be misinterpreted.

Conceited – Any tone that implies conceit, better than, or above others will be taken as arrogant. For example, saying something like, “Well, I’m the ONLY one who knows how to do their job in this department” is considering only yourself and your efforts.

The way your colleagues and team members perceive you is based on how you use your tone of voice.

If you think that sometimes your speaking can come off as arrogant or rub people the wrong way, there are a few ways you can adjust your tone of voice:

  1. Listen to Yourself – Record yourself speaking.  Roleplay as if you were in the office talking to different people.  Record yourself as you would talk to them.  Then, listen back.  Take notes and see if your tone change depending on who you are speaking with.  Also, ask yourself, how would you feel communicating with yourself, and are you coming off the way you intend?
  2. Practice – The great news is you can change your tone of voice with practice. After listening to how you sound, adjust your tone in a variety of pitches, inflection, and pace. Don’t be afraid of sounding silly as you’ll probably practice this in private. Better to adjust it now than in front of others. Record yourself to hear how you are improving. 

The difference between confidence and arrogance in the workplace

Your body language is also a signal that can also exude confidence or arrogance.  

Confident Body Language – Confident body language includes:

  • Good Posture – Standing up straight with your shoulders back and not slouched.
  • Eye Contact – Maintaining eye contact with the person talking shows you are engaged and listening.
  • Open Hand Gestures – Not crossing your arms or using fists.

Arrogant Body Language – Arrogant body language includes:

  • No Eye Contact –  Refusing to make eye contact with the person who is speaking and looking away can come off as being dismissive.
  • Pointing fingers – Pointing your fingers down at someone can be condescending.
  • Dominating Gestures – Anytime you try to intimidate or be larger than you are to make a point.

Remember, your tone of voice and body language are important to how you are perceived by your co-workers and superiors.  Make sure you come across as confident and not arrogant.



2. Intent Vs. Impact

What you intend to say may not have the same impact on your audience. There are several ways to ensure your impact is the same as your message’s intention:

  • Focus on EQ – EQ or Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy. When you are more self-aware, you are able to see things from another person’s point of view and be more considerate. 

For example, if you need to speak up about a flaw in a design concept,  there are two ways you can say it (one displays more EQ than the other): 

Option 1: “This concept is not designed well and won’t work the way it is supposed to” – Of course, this is true, but the way in which you stated it may impact the person negatively. 

Option 2: “This is a great first run on this design.  I like the way a and b were handled.  I’m not sure c will work the way you had hoped, let’s work together to make sure it does what it needs to.” – This one is being more considerate of the effort put in place yet also showcases the exact areas for improvement.

See the difference in impact?

  • Tailor Your Message – Think about who your audience is before you speak. And tailor your message accordingly.  For example, if you are speaking to your team and you are excited about how well they have done this last quarter, be sure to praise the team and congratulate them on their accomplishments.  When you do this, you show confidence in them.  It would be unwise to talk about how the work they have done boosted your own personal finances – like affording you that new car because of your huge bonus.  That comes across as arrogant.  Again, getting a new car isn’t a bad thing, bragging about it to the wrong audience is.

The key difference between arrogance and confidence is thinking about your audience first, and not yourself.  Focus on the message and the intention behind what you are trying to say.

3. Word Choice

The words you use are important.  If you want to make sure you aren’t coming across as arrogant, you’ll have to think about the words you are saying. Here are some key points to consider:

Team Language – When are you speaking about accomplishments that were done together it is important that you use words like we and us. Unless you single-handedly created, developed, and implemented everything by yourself -be sure to use inclusive words when talking about the project you are on. 

Give Compliments – A confident leader and co-worker isn’t afraid to give compliments and praise. An arrogant person will hold off on giving compliments because they don’t want others taking the spotlight. But the key is to build others up because that builds goodwill and social capital. 

Self-Deprecating – Self-deprecating language can appear as the opposite of arrogance.  However, it can undermine your work or your team’s work.  Be sure you are using confident language when talking about your projects. 

For example, when talking about a project that you perhaps made a few mistakes on, consider how the following word choices affect your overall executive presence. 

the difference between confidence and arrogance in the workplace

Option #1 We were able to complete this project on time despite me messing things up along the way! This is self-deprecating, making it seem like you hindered the whole project.

Option #2 Our team worked together and overcame several obstacles to complete this project on time!  In this way, you are acknowledging the obstacles, but in a positive way rather than making fun of yourself.

See the difference?

The words you choose can exude confidence or arrogance if you aren’t careful.  Be mindful of what you say and how it could be perceived.


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