A long running debate in my own mind is the difference between arrogance and confidence. Here are two definitions:

An arrogant person only feels smart if someone else feels stupid. Their sense of themselves depends on thinking less of someone else. They insist on correcting other people’s grammar or showing them their flaws, as it’s the only way they can feel an approximation of confidence. Arrogance is about intent: its when ability (or perceived ability) is used to look down on others.

A confident person feels competent from the inside out. They use their talents to genuinely try to be of use, or to succeed at the task at hand. They might seek external validation, but they don’t depend on it to define their sense of their ability or nature.

In some cases an arrogant person may have more skill than a confident person, but the confident person will tend to wield whatever abilities they have with more calm control than an arrogant person can.

What do you think?

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44 Responses to “Arrogance vs. Confidence: what’s the difference?”

  1. Robby Slaughter |

    Who died and made YOU the king of definitions? :)

    This is a great way of thinking about arrogance and confidence. Walter Bond likes to say “confidence is arrogance under control.” Your approach notes that confidence is about knowledge of superior ability, whereas arrogance is putting others down.

    I do think that confident people ought to have the ability to spot errors, but should do so with a sense of humility. The arrogant person says: “You’ve made a mistake.” The confident person says: “I’ve made that mistake too.”

    Reply
  2. Jeff Hora |

    Arrogance is about external appearances, hence the “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. Confidence is held inwardly and can soldier on regardless of external opinions, positive, negative or neutral. Arrogance tends to work against, while confidence more easily works with.

    Reply
  3. Jared M. Spool |

    I like the definition.

    I’m going to guess that an arrogant person comes from a place of shame. They don’t like how they feel about themselves, so they put on airs of superiority to compensate. The opportunity to make someone else feel uncomfortable shifts the attention away from themselves and their sense of inadequacy.

    However, I think a confident person comes from a place of security. They know where they stand and are comfortable in that place, even when they aren’t the smartest or best in the room. They don’t have to compensate for their inadequacies the way the arrogant person does.

    What do you think?

    Reply
  4. Kerry |

    Some arrogance is passive. I would define an arrogant person as one who is so convinced of their superiority that it blinds them to outside ideas and alternate viewpoints. Confidence, in my mind, implies enough separation from ego that one can learn and self-improve while doing great things.

    Someone who actively enjoys putting others down I would define as a jerk :)

    Reply
  5. Kevin Morrill |

    Glad you’re drawing the distinction, but I think there’s a more useful way to look at it.

    Confidence actually properly comes from the outside in. By that I mean, that confidence comes from living consistent with reality. For example, Galileo is confident about his conclusions because he does experiments informed by reality. I don’t mean that as a social phenomenon, as if everyone agreeing with you the world is flat makes your idea any more true.

    Arrogance is not primarily about an attitude, but instead about your confidence being out of step with reality. In other words, no matter how confident you feel about driving 80mpg on a crowded freeway, your car can only stop so fast.

    Taking pleasure in other people being stupid is probably best labeled as some other dysfunction.

    Reply
    • Michael |

      It’s way late on this blog, but I wanted to say this sounds very true. I don’t think confidence survives without some level of external validation. I think anyone is capable of failing ‘some number’ of times at something and lose their trust in themselves. And if a person falls from a place of high confidence, he can begin trying to rebuild it by re-examining his physical reality and trying to operate in it ‘the way it is’. Sometimes this means a nasty bitter person who’s arrogant (but confident, as he knows the reality feels true to him) to the rest of us.

      I have a friend who went through some very similar circumstances as myself, and while he turned what I consider bitter, angry and arrogant. I went the other way. But I know his reality of his situation feels “right” to him.

      Reply
      • Journeyman |

        You call someone confident when you think their self-assuredness is warranted. You call them arrogant when you think it isn’t. If they use the right body language, voice tonality, and speech pacing, they’ll earn the label confident. If they don’t, they’ll earn the label arrogant. Right or wrong, competent or not, they’ll draw judgements from their mannerisms more than from their character or their “absolute objective worth”

        Reply
        • Eric |

          I would disagree with your distinction Journeyman, although this might be merely semantic. I don’t believe the difference can be seen by judging the merit of someone’s self-assurance, but I think this can definitely be an easy mistake to make, one I now can think of having made any number of times. I believe a better gauge would be assessing your motivation of the judgement of merit and the existence of your doubt.

          Every time I have been around highly confident people, I never think to question their confidence, nor the accuracy or validity of their claims, stated or implied. I think part of that might stem from what was discussed earlier, in that an arrogant person tends to elevate themselves by lowering others, something that seems bound to result in negative feelings from most of those so lowered. This can often lead to jealousy and a judgement on the merit of the person’s statements. With confidence, I don’t think most people will ever feel the need to question the merit of the confident person’s claims, as acceptance has no bearing on you. I don’t think either of those reactions are considered, rational, conscious paths as much as initial responses, so you don’t have to use their conclusions, or even their existence, when moving forward, but awareness of their origin could be tremendously helpful.

          This could easily lead to the argument that a confident person wouldn’t have the reaction I am describing when confronted with arrogance. While it might be a bit of a tangent from the initial point of my comment, I feel compelled to point out that confidence doesn’t imply perfection; quite the opposite, actually. I might have a negative reaction and feelings of jealousy around an arrogant person but I work very hard to not let those feelings guide my actions and do my best to keep them from coloring my impression of a situation. At the same time, I acknowledge that their existence alone suggests a few inferences I could make.

          As a last point of order: the mere fact that those who have contributed and/or read this thread are concerned with the distinction at all suggests they are leaning towards the confidence side of the scale. You are questioning yourself and your world. Personally, this post has helped me in two ways: first, it has helped me refine some aspects of the debate I have long thought about without much progress, and second, it has lent some credence to the value of my struggle. Would an arrogant person really care if they were arrogant or, if they knew or had been told, care to do anything about it? I doubt they would ever find this discussion to begin with, so all those who read it, give yourselves a pat on the back. While we may never reach the destination of perfection, having some idea of where we are trying to go can give us license to spend more time enjoying the journey.

          Reply
          • emma |

            Brilliant thoughts. New insight just by pondering them.

  6. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People |

    Arrogant people measure themselves against other people and judge themselves to be better.

    Confident people measure themselves against the task at hand and judge themselves to be up to the challenge.

    Reply
    • Opae |

      I really connect with the description of the difference. Thanks for posting it.

      Reply
  7. Sean Crawford |

    Like Robby says, it’s about humility.

    I’ve often seen arrogance as a mental blind spot for self and others, with such people not understanding how they are seen by others, hence they may talk for too long or too grandly, and hence they don’t realize how real people have smacked their noses against reality.

    A prince sheltered in a palace might be arrogant, while a millionaire who started out as an orphan, unless traumatized into blind spots, would not. Hence the former orphan, now a confident strong munitions king, Andrew Undershaft, in the stage play “Major Barbara,” by G.B. Shaw, is shown as taking care to know his own strength around people.

    You may have seen the recent Liam Neeson movie “Unknown” where Liam is replaced by a double, a double that even his wife thinks is the real Liam. Rather than conclude he has gone mad, Liam reasons, in the translation of the French book, “I know why the other man is a fake. You can see it in his face, his ease, his detachment. He has never known shame…”

    Reply
  8. Ivan Walsh |

    Regretfully, an arrogant personality can be more intimidating, which does have results in the workplace.

    Reply
  9. Christopher Fahey |

    The difference is essentially in the mind of the external observer, not in the nature of the subject’s sense of self worth. If your confidence makes other people feel insulted, whether you intended it to or not, you will be called arrogant. If your arrogance is received with agreeing smiles, you will be seen as an example of natural confidence.

    Reply
  10. KevDog |

    As long as we’re playing the definition game.

    Confidence is understanding your strengths, arrogance is ignoring your weaknesses.

    Reply
    • Eric |

      Kevdog, do you think understanding your strengths without understanding your weaknesses would lead to confidence as much as ignorance and self delusion? And wouldn’t an arrogant person have to know their weaknesses in order to ignore them? How do you ignore something of which you are not aware?

      I am not saying I think you are wrong. Far from it, as I think you have concisely distilled a very core, pivotal difference. I am merely asking your opinion about the first questions to come to my mind when I read your post.

      Reply
  11. Chris |

    Arrogance = I’m superior to you
    Confidence = I believe in my capability

    Reply
  12. Dave Gordon |

    One is confident while facing the challenge, and arrogant while facing the audience.

    Confidence is usually justified by preparation; arrogance by autobiography.

    Confidence is no guarantee of success, just as arrogance is no guarantee of failure, but those outcomes are usually what trigger the biggest celebrations.

    Reply
    • Eric |

      I agree with your statement concerning celebratory triggers, although I really dislike the idea that outcomes alone lead to so many distinctions. I need to be more aware of how outcomes are affecting my own decisions with regards to these matters. I have a suspicion they play a larger part that I would like. Thank you for pointing that out.

      Reply
  13. Lou |

    The real trick is, as some have observed, understanding how you are being viewed by the ones around you. Intent may influence things but if you are being viewed as an arrogant douche, it doesn’t matter what is your intent.

    As such, the arrogant person is one who either refuses to examine his surroundings (or doesn’t care).

    Reply
  14. Per Mogensen |

    You should read Jeremy Sherman’s blog, he has a lot to say about ambiguous concepts like these. Here’s his latest post on confidence:
    http://www.mindreadersdictionary.com/what-should-i-do/confidence-double-standard-when-his-confidence-means-hes-right-and-yours-means-youre-stubborn/

    To me confidence is proactive, arrogance is reactive. We all make both proactive and reactive choices, and I think we are all confident and arrogant in various ways, the question is whether it is appropriate for the situation?

    Reply
  15. Joe |

    You don’t say “try and be of use.” It is “try TO be of use.”

    ;)

    Reply
  16. Joe |

    Scott – I was making a joke about your whole premise. Sure, it was a grammatical mistake, but I was just being a wiseass.

    Reply
  17. Mike Nitabach |

    All of these definitions sound good. An important corollary to each is that confident people are always seeking out others who possess knowledge/talents/skills they lack, while arrogant people are avoiding them.

    Reply
  18. Paul Baranowski |

    Why do you want to know the difference? What will knowing the difference allow you to do?

    Arrogance is a form of insecurity. An arrogant person will beat themselves up internally for a perceived mistake or blame someone else for a perceived mistake, or both. The arrogant person desperately wants something to hold on to because they feel like they don’t matter or they feel that they cannot trust others(or any number of other reasons). They see themselves as separate and independent from others. They tend to believe in perfection, which has the downside that it is an unattainable goal. Because of their drive for security, they often become very skilled at something in hopes of getting the security they desire. But their behaviors only serve to reinforce the feeling of insecurity(e.g. blame), and the feedback loop continues indefinitely. To get out of this mental pattern requires a lot of voluntary emotional work and the guidance of a skilled therapist or spiritual teacher. If the person is not willing to change, there is very little that can be done to change their point of view.

    A confident person understands their strengths and their shortcomings accurately. They will not view experiences as mistakes or successes, only feedback. They will help teach and mentor someone if something needs to be changed, without laying any blame. They see themselves as interdependent with other people, and understand that their own happiness is dependent upon the happiness of others. Thus they take care of the people around them. A confident person acts out of love and compassion for other and themselves. They know how to take care of their mind and their body. Their actions create more security for themselves and others around them and thus they feel solid and stable. They have the capacity to embrace others and their weaknesses, even arrogant people, and accept them without judgment.

    I just want to point out that both confidence and arrogance are states of mind and not permanent characteristics of a person. Confidence is a state of mind that comes from understanding oneself, which can accomplished through any number of well known methods (and there are many levels of understanding yourself). Arrogance as a state of mind comes from mental patterns generated from the feeling of insecurity, as well as the actions that unknowingly generate an insecure life.

    Reply
    • Eric |

      You may be right Paul. Maybe you are one of those lucky people who is just naturally confident. I am not one of those people. After struggling with insecurity and shyness for far too long, I ended up overcompensating and becoming rather arrogant. Part of my attempt to rectify this has been to define the differences in such a way as to assist in my efforts to consciously alter my state to something that has never come naturally. Additionally, working to avoid the pitfalls often inherent in arrogance has already proven useful in my daily life and interactions with friends and family. Hopefully, this helps you understand why the distinction is so critical, at least for me.

      Reply
  19. Terry Bleizeffer |

    Arrogant people and confident people both hold strongly held opinions. The difference is simple… if I agree with the opinion, they’re confident… I I disagree with the opinion, they’re arrogant.

    =)

    Reply
    • Eric |

      I fear you are often right Terry (no offense, but I really hope you are wrong!). Your comment is similar to a discussion I have had before regarding open-mindedness: your mind is open if you already agree with me or I change your mind, but closed if you disagree with me and refuse to acknowledge the fact that I am right. The real trouble for me with both of these is the nature of the path one takes to get there. Each step seems so logical that I often don’t even think to question the result once I arrive there, making it monumentally difficult to change the behavior.

      Reply
  20. Jim |

    I’m counting myself to the confident persons ^^

    But from time to time I feel like a arrogant person actually has her/his good sides as well, e.g. when a long bargaining process is not coming to an end, an arrogant person can move mountains.

    Where would Steve Jobs be without his arrogance? I guess he’s the most arrogant person there is?

    Arrogance can instill motivation and a sense of challenge in others… most of the of course arrogance is just bad.

    Reply
  21. charity fuzessy |

    A confident person to me is someone that likes themselves and believes in the equality of people. That everyone is worthy of love and beautiful. A person that is arrogant in my oppinion believes they are better then other people…and more entittled to love and things then others because they are more favored and more special then other people.

    Reply
  22. Joe |

    Both are perceived opinions others form. If you come across as either arrogant or confident it is and is not your fault. Many who are insecure place labels of “arrogance” on others who are confident. Hence the confident person is not arrogant….you are just insecure.
    The truth is that a confident person is one walks in reality. Humility is walking in reality. If you don`t know then you just don`t know. Nothing irritates a confident person more than a blind idiot who acts like he knows.

    Reply
    • Eric |

      It might not be your fault but ignoring the results of your behavior can be dangerous. I have encountered extremely arrogant people whose arrogance revolved around a skill or accomplishment about which I have no knowledge or interest I am thinking of kid I knew growing up who spent years touting his rescue of Princess Peach in the first Mario Bros game, something he accomplished before anyone else we knew. While I had played the game, I place extremely little value in his accomplishment and didn’t feel at all like he had harmed my self image or confidence in any way. The fact that he beat me was not good or bad; it just didn’t matter. Nonetheless, I was able to recognize his arrogance very easily and clearly. He did something I had not and he knew more about it than I did, so he wasn’t a blind idiot or anything. Plus, his taunts had no sting since I really didn’t mind losing the battle. (I don’t like losing, but I didn’t have a Nintendo machine, as he did, and I played several sports, as he did not. Would the 100-year-old man running a marathon resent the 25-year-old who wins the whole thing or be more focused on completing the race at all? Would the winner’s jibes carry much weight with him? I guess I am saying I don’t agree with your conclusion that any label of arrogance says more about the one assigning the label. Although you are undoubtedly right sometimes, I think arrogance is definitely something that can be objectively determined. Still, reading your post will definitely make me question my motivation the next time I find myself thinking of someone as arrogant.

      Reply
  23. RK who |

    Somebody you do not like is arrogant while somebody you like is confident.

    Reply
  24. Sue |

    An arrogant person is self absorbed. A confident person is open to others.

    Reply
  25. Dan S |

    Arrogant people often “correct” you when they agree with you. They simply restate what you said in a different way with a tone that indicates that you were somehow wrong.

    They are actually agreeing with you but cannot overcome the compulsion to respond with a “No, it’s like this…”. This is necessary for their internal formula to work out. No exceptions allowed.

    Overconfidence is different. When it is proved that they are wrong, they admit it, shrug it off as though it were the only thing remaining that they didn’t know. The arrogant person cannot even make that concession. To do so would be to allow for the possibility that they are not superior in every way and they fear that more than anything.

    Reply
  26. Joanne Arseneault |

    Hello Mr. Berkun, “They might seek external validation, but they don’t depend on it to define their sense of their ability or nature..” I agree with your definitions. I would change “They might seek….” to “They welcome external….” To me, this means that if external validation comes their way, they are gracious and humble in accepting it and, at the same time, limit it’s impact on “….their sense of their ability or nature.”

    Reply
  1. [...] Arrogance vs. Confidence: what’s the difference? (Scott Berkun) [...]

  2. [...] and techno-speaker Scott Berkun asks, “What’s the difference between arrogance and self-confidence?” We’re [...]

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