Confidence vs. Arrogance (and Knowing the Difference)

Apr 4, 2012

A large portion of my life is spent either on a stage, prepping for a stage, or working with those who make their living on a stage. Whether the medium is speaking or writing, my world is a public one.

After spending years in this arena, however, I’ve discovered the spotlight grows arrogance like the sun grows grass. Hardly a week passes when I don’t encounter someone (online or in person) who reeks of self-importance. I’ve always had a sensitive sniffer, and the stench of arrogance can turn my nose up in a split second.

About as quickly as I mutter my displeasure, I’m struck with a horrible thought: What if I stink just as bad? What if my attitude and responses are polluted by a rotten root of arrogance within? Quite often Arrogance is the last person to see herself clearly.

More often than not, I struggle with a thread of insecurity. And so I attempt to reassure myself: Arrogance and insecurity can’t coexist, can they? Yes, they can. In fact, arrogance is often an attempt to mask an acute awareness of weakness. Self-deprecation is its own form of self-consumption. Whether I’m glossing myself or mourning my failures, I’m still making it all about me.

Arrogance repels. Confidence, on the other hand, attracts. Like a fulcrum centered between two distasteful extremes, confidence keeps a person grounded and draws other people in. It provides a sense of safety, for self and others. It inspires, encourages, challenges, leads. One definition describes confidence this way:

The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust. The state of feeling certain about the truth of something.

A person of confidence knows where she stands. She isn’t compelled to carry “look at me!’ signs and brag about her position or strengths. She is simply aware of both, grateful for her gifts, and determined to use them to the best of her ability.

The line between confidence and arrogance often appears thin, but the canyon between the two is significant. How can you recognize the difference?

  • Posture. Arrogance carries himself with a telltale swagger. He carries his own spotlight and shows off as often as possible. He’s aggressive and difficult to approach, even as he’s vying for attention. Confidence walks tall, assured, but far less domineering. He is approachable, adopting an open and easy posture. No flashy signs or side-show are needed. Being himself is enough.
  • Conversation. Arrogance spends more time bragging and less time inquiring, more time talking and less time listening. He doesn’t ask many questions, because he can’t afford to lose any ground. Confidence inquires and then listens. He doesn’t get defensive at differing responses or feel compelled to disagree or respond. He’s certain of what he believes, but is open enough to allow for the opinions and exploration of others.
  • Relationships. The difference between confidence and arrogance might be most noticeable in relationships. Arrogance brags and then belittles, puffs up self while deflating others. Arrogance feels threatened by others’ success, and often turns it into a competition. Confidence is aware of both his strengths and weaknesses. He also allows for the strengths and weaknesses of others. He is unafraid to celebrate the success of others, as well as his own. This makes him easy to be around.
  • History. Arrogance promises the moon, but typically delivers nothing but air. He boasts about his strengths, but when the time comes and his strengths are needed, he rarely shows up. If life were a poker game, Arrogance would be great at bluffing. He’s more concerned about image than true success. Confidence knows how to work hard. He lets his efforts and achievements speak for themselves. If you look at his track record, you’ll see consistency and follow through.

Confidence is a work of the heart. Like the frame of a house, it’s the solid internal support without which a person will eventually fall. Arrogance, on the other hand, is a frantic attempt to hang curtains on a frameless home. It adds color and draws attention, but it’s a poor coverup for what’s missing at heart.

What differences do you see between confidence and arrogance?


  1. suzy sammons

    Hi Michele,
    Wonderful point of view! Yes, in the image-based world of advertising, I’ve long studied the difference between these two character values. You nailed it. Confidence is high quality and calm; arrogance is always shallow and ultimately unreliable. It’s also fascinating to observe highly talented people who lack confidence and desperately seek constant approval [from anyone!] yet would shutter to admit they are arrogant. But they are, aren’t they?
    I pray that He would peel away any layers of this kind of deceit in my own life…….. Thank you for the discussion!

    • suzy sammons

      ugh… i meant “shudder” .. 🙂

    • Michele

      It’s interesting, isn’t it? It is not uncommon for highly talented (and often successful) people to lack confidence. Insecurity is a difficult one to overcome, regardless of how much success. That just proves security and confidence MUST come from something (or Someone) other than the circumstantial.

  2. tonya

    This was a timely read for me. I have tons of insecurity to overcome- at times I feel way to self-absorbed. Tying to find the balance is hard- I tend to either not say anything or too much. Great post, Michele!

    • Michele

      I’m right there with you, Tonya. I’m learning that overcoming insecurity is one of the most challenging and most important character/heart/mind changes I can make.

  3. Dale Melchin

    I’ve honestly only met a few people who I think would fall into the arrogant category, and I’ll admit, I’ve fallen into this trap myself. There is one in particular though that I will never forget even now the memory of this person haunts me.

    This would be the first territory manager I had when I first tried insurance. Most Arrogant Person Ever. He put on an air of kindness when he wanted something from you (typically when he was selling, whether it was the a “position” with the company, or a life insurance policy. He routinely mistreated his employees, did not try to get to the root of problems, was almost completely devoid of intellect. He had one accomplishment that I could see from his life.

    He was a master salesman, he could turn the charm off and turn it back on. I tried really hard to learn from this guy, but it just didn’t work. Our personalities could not match up being in the same room with the guy was like putting a hole in an emotional bucket. Instant drain.

    I realize I probably just unloaded more baggage than I should’ve on here, but man. Arrogance is extremely destructive.

    • Michele

      Dale, I worked in sales for a while myself and had a sales manager that was similar. I was pretty young and naive at the time, and his behavior shocked me. As you said, arrogance is extremely destructive. A good lesson for me to learn!

  4. J

    Great insight. I’ve been criticized as arrogant for trying to get coworkers to be accountable for completing their assignments and to agree on ground rules for our team meetings. First time in my 50 yrs of life, and only since I moved into healthcare…from a mfg environment. I am very confident in my ability to facilitate teams but feel that my confidence is being confused with arrogance…I’ve made it clear that my goal is a high-performing team. I’ve never boasted about myself in any way, yet others without the same training I’ve had don’t feel confident in themselves…they blame me for making them “feel like a dumb-ass”. It seems that their insecurity keeps them from learning and getting better. It’s caused me to look for a better environment…another organization.

    • Michele

      Hi, J. Sounds like a complicated situation. You make a good point—confidence isn’t always going to be received well. It can easily be misinterpreted and become a quick reason for criticism. I believe the trick is to make sure confidence builds others up, rather than tramples.

  5. Diana

    I was searching for a page that broke it down like this so thank you. Ive been mistreated by coworkers in the past who called me arrogant. I was taught by my grandparents to always walk tall with your head held high. Smile and be proud of who you are. I dont go around telling people my resume and trust me I know my limitations. I love to smile and I have the attitude of never let your enemies see you unhappy. I was taught the best revenge is success. I also praise others on their success and I’m so happy and proud of friends and family when they have success. I love helping others any way I can. So I really dont think I fall under Arrogant. Do you?

    • CD

      I think it’s a difficult thing to self-assess, Diana, even with the help of this article and our own self-assurances. There’s only a couple of really good ways I’m aware of to get a straight answer: one is from a wise, truthful, and brave person (preferably a friend), the other is by asking God’s Spirit to make the truth plain. I’ve been dismayed at times to discover that some of the well-meant advice from those who nurtured me growing up had some unintended bad side effects. What I’d always accepted as a good rule for life turned out to be an oft-repeated bit of faulty human wisdom that overlooked some important element of eternal truth. Anyway, from the sound of your post, it seems like you might be on a search for validation that you’re doing things right, that the people who say you’re arrogant are wrong. I completely understand. Just gonna say, my best searches have most often begun with a desire to be validated and yet ended with the more beneficial desire to discover the truth. It’s an amazing experience to get free from a need to be right and find that escape route into the quest for what is true instead. Knowing the truth sets us free, right? Blessings, sister.

  6. Omar

    Hi michelle ,
    I do belive in everything u said . My friends have repeatedly told me i am arrogant , different friends at different times usualy in a dramatic fashion . What u wrote is pretty much what i do and feel , and i know where i got that from , my dad .
    I love him and although he is successful , he has very low self seteem and he sure acts arrogant . It is truly destructive and it is truly affecting me and it scares me to death that i grow up to turn like him .
    Ok now i understood the root of the problem , and i am so eager to develop self confidence but have no idea how and lack that mentor character in my life , and i honestly had enough losing friends and feeling awekward almost with everyone i know or even don’t know , what do u think

  7. Clif

    This article was absolutely genius. Thank you for sharing your point of view; it’s refreshing. What I’d like to know is do you feel it’s possible to share qualities of both??

  8. JohnnyFive

    Arrogant people are empty, insecure frauds.

  9. Sean T

    This is an easy one: Arrogance is being better than everyone else. Confidence is being better than yourself. What does that mean? You’re better than your desires, fears, and faults.

  10. M. Kumari

    Thanks to make us understand the difference, to help us walk the right path.



  1. Monday Morning Moment – Contempt is Cancer in the Workplace…and Any Other Place | Blog – Deb Mills - […] Confidence vs. Arrogance – and Knowing the Difference by Michele Cushatt […]

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