Human behavior is so very interesting. In observing others, there is a clear difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is a very attractive characteristic while arrogance can be quite off-putting.

Depending on the research you look at, it takes anywhere from a millisecond to a few seconds to make a first impression. That is a lot of pressure and it can be tricky to exude a sense of confidence if you don’t feel very confident. A well-meaning attempt, poorly executed, can cause more harm than good.   

One way to showcase your work without looking arrogant is when someone else does it for you. When you work in a team where there is safety and trust, it is really quite appropriate to get in the habit of supporting each other by highlighting a team member’s recent accomplishment or great qualities so they don’t have to do the heavy lifting. It feels good to be able to support your team in this manner and when others feel well supported, they are likely to reciprocate when the moment is right.

Self-awareness is also key. Know your strengths and get in the habit of contributing to conversations where you believe you have something to offer, even if you feel nervous speaking up. Just make sure you don’t speak over others and support the good ideas of others also.

There is really nothing wrong with speaking confidently about something if you do so in a friendly manner that is open to collaboration. I am always reminded of the Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Don’t get too enamored with the sound of your own voice. Every answer does not have to turn into a monolog. You can say what you need to say being thoughtful and detailed. You don’t, however, have to weigh in on every topic or have the solution to every problem. In fact, if you are asked and you don’t have the answer, it is better to admit that you don’t and submit a plan to find solutions with the support of key team members, rather than blowing some obvious smoke that can make others feel like you are underestimating their intelligence.      

Show genuine interest in the lives and work of those around you. It is important to remember and ask about meaningful details. When you show this genuine level of caring and kindness, you will receive the same in return. A word of caution, if you are only asking people about their lives or work as a “means to and end” or a gimmick for them to ask about yours, it will feel fake and inauthentic.

When you speak on a topic it can be helpful to do so by telling a story or connecting it with your “why.” This feels more personable and relatable. These same facts shared in the form of “this is what I accomplished” or “these are my achievements” feels very different and quite off-putting. Imagine which person you would rather have a conversation with.  

Finally, it can be uncomfortable to receive compliments. Sometimes people will downplay their accomplishments when they feel this discomfort. It can be helpful to practice receiving a compliment graciously and sharing your passion around the particular subject.

– Dr. Siquilla Liebetrau, clinical director, Bowen Center