How To Not Be Arrogant (But Still be Confident)

Lots of people unintentionally come across as arrogant. Some are naturally shy people who are trying to appear confident. Others have bullet-proof self-belief that crosses the line into arrogance.

What’s the difference between confidence and arrogance?

Confident people have good self-esteem without being self-centered. They like building other people up and are usually warm and caring. Arrogant people are cold and focus on making themselves look as good as possible, often at the expense of others.

In this guide, we’re going to look at the signs you might be arrogant and how to make changes if necessary.

Sections

Part 1: How to know if you’re arrogant

It can be difficult to know whether you come across as arrogant or confident. Quite often, the difference between the two is in how people perceive what you say and do. How people perceive you is closely related to the attitude you have towards them.

To help you, I’ve put together some signs that you might be prone to being arrogant:

  • People tell you that you are arrogant
  • You struggle to ask for help
  • You expect other people to wait for you
  • You think you’re special or unique
  • You become angry or annoyed if others don’t take your advice
  • You like being the center of attention and are reluctant to share the spotlight
  • You are unhappy when others are praised
  • When someone else achieves something, you think, “I could do that”
  • You think your arrogance is more socially acceptable than arrogance in other people
  • You compare yourself to others
  • You care about whether people know that you’re right
  • You always want to have things your own way
  • You won’t adapt or change your behavior to make other people feel comfortable
  • You can’t take criticism and struggle with self-reflection
  • Other people don’t open up to you

Having one or two of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean that you are—or appear—arrogant. But if more than a few items on this list ring true, you might be more arrogant than you realize.

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Be aware that some people might call you arrogant not because it’s true, but because they want to put you down. If only one or two people tell you that you come across as arrogant and everyone else says that you’re fine, you might not be the problem.

Part 2: How to stop being arrogant

To avoid coming across as arrogant, we need to make changes to how we think, what we say, and how we act.

1. Don’t try to make people like you through achievements

Sometimes, we can come across as arrogant because we’re anxious to show people that we’re interesting and worthwhile. We worry that they won’t be able to see the things we do well, so we bring up the topic over and over. The trouble is that, by doing this, we’re making all of our conversations about us. We’re not making space for other people.

We’re also showing that we don’t trust the other person to value us unless we force them to. This implicit message might make them uncomfortable. Rather than trying to push your achievements to the foreground, try to trust that they will be seen and recognized.

This solution has two parts. The first is to learn to trust yourself. Building up your core confidence can help you to trust that your skills will shine through. This isn’t an easy process, which is why we have so many articles devoted to building up your confidence.

The second half is to trust that other people value you, even if they don’t notice what you think of as your most important skills or attributes. For me, the most important step in trusting that other people will value you as a person is learning to see the value in others.

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2. Try to see the value in everyone

Arrogant people often define other people’s value based on how helpful that person is to them or where they rank in some kind of hierarchy.[1] For example, they might see intelligent people as more important or of higher value than less intelligent people.

You may have heard this famous quote (often attributed to Einstein, although he never actually said it):

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Everyone you meet has something that they are excellent at, and everyone has value. Trying to look for the value in others, rather than ways we’re superior to them, can help us form better relationships and make us less arrogant in the process.

If you struggle to see others as equals, try asking yourself what benefits they bring to other people in their life. They might make other people feel loved or support them in ways you don’t see. If you really struggle, try telling yourself, “I know I don’t see the value in this person, but that’s because I don’t know them well enough yet. I’m choosing to wait and trust that their value will become clear later.”

3. Focus your attention outwards

Arrogance is inherently self-centered.[2] An arrogant person is constantly thinking about themselves and about how other people view them. In contrast, a confident person spends far more time thinking about other people and how they are feeling.

Try to focus your attention outwards, especially during conversations and social events. Practice active listening and really try to understand what other people have been experiencing and how they are feeling.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

It can be hard to let go of arrogant thoughts and actions if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. The next time you’re tempted to compare yourself to someone else, try reminding yourself of this:

“The only comparison that matters is the comparison between my present self and the person I was in the past. If I’m better at that than I was a year, a day, or an hour ago, then I’ve improved and I’m on the right track.”

Arrogant behavior can mask feelings of inferiority. If you often feel worse or “less than” when you compare yourself to other people, see our guide on how to overcome an inferiority complex.

4. Engage in small talk and listen

Small talk is often boring. But making small talk lets you show people that you are interested in them. It signals that you want to know what they think and feel about things. Arrogant people don’t care about what other people think or how they feel. If you avoid small talk, it’s easy for others to assume that it’s because you’re arrogant.

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Small talk is all about showing that you are interested and can be trusted in conversations where people don’t feel vulnerable. It’s used to build relationships to make everyone feel safe having deeper and more meaningful conversations. Practice making small talk with others and really listening to them.

Don’t interrupt

Interrupting is the exact opposite of listening and can come across as highly arrogant. Remind yourself that what you want to say is no more or less important than what everyone else wants to say. You can also tell yourself, “I learn more by listening than speaking” to help remind you of the value of letting another person finish. Learning to join a conversation without interrupting is a useful skill.

5. Ask for immediate feedback

Getting feedback from others that you come across as arrogant feels pretty awful, but it can be a helpful way to learn. If you have a close friend who you trust, you can ask them to let you know when you say or do something that comes across as arrogant.

Receiving feedback that you came across as arrogant can leave you feeling guilty. Asking for the other person to give you immediate feedback gives you the chance to apologize and make amends, which can make you feel better. Obviously, this works better in some situations than others. Being told that you’ve just come across as arrogant during a big group conversation at a party would probably feel terrible!

Learn to deal well with feedback

Learning to deal well with this kind of feedback can take some practice. I like to deal with it in stages.

  1. Accept how the feedback made me feel

I take a few seconds (sometimes minutes) to accept that getting the feedback hurt, and sometimes that it’s surprising. It’s tempting to block those feelings of being hurt, but that makes it harder to process the feedback.[3]

  1. Understand what I was trying to do

The next step is to think about what I was trying to achieve with what I said or did. I might have been trying to entertain people or explain something I thought they hadn’t understood properly. Often, I realize that I actually was trying to show off. Try not to criticize yourself when you have this kind of realization. Remind yourself that you’re learning about yourself and making progress. If you struggle with self-compassion, try saying to yourself, “I’ve asked for feedback to help me get better. I’m improving, and that’s the most important thing.”

  1. Think about how it might have made other people feel

When we unintentionally come across as arrogant, it’s usually because there’s a mismatch between what we were trying to do and how it made other people feel. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they might have been thinking and feeling. If you find this hard, ask your trusted friend to help explain it to you.

  1. Thank the person who gave you the feedback

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This is really important. Telling someone that they’ve come across as arrogant is a difficult thing to do, especially if they’re a friend. Recognizing that someone has done something uncomfortable to help you become better and thanking them for it is a good way to put them at ease. It also shows humility and gratitude, two traits that are incompatible with arrogance.

6. Be warm

Lots of people realize that they come across as arrogant when they’re trying to be more confident. One of the biggest differences between confidence and arrogance is how warm you are. Warmth is how we show other people that we like them. It’s the antidote to arrogance.

Be honest, vulnerable, and polite

Warm people allow themselves to be honest and vulnerable. They are good listeners and are grateful for the time and company of others. Here’s what different combinations of confidence and warmth do:

confident arrogant cold warm

As we become better at conveying confidence, it also becomes more important that we convey warmth at the same time to avoid coming off as arrogant.[4]

7. Collaborate, don’t dominate

Arrogant people often try to dominate those around them. They try to take control of conversations and steer them towards topics they can talk about extensively. They can put others down and struggle to admit when they don’t know something. They use their words, their body language, and their tone of voice to assert dominance.

Most people find this kind of behavior really off-putting and attention-seeking. Rather than trying to dominate the conversation, try working with people to create an enjoyable experience for everyone. This often means acting as a facilitator, noticing when others aren’t being heard, and trying to draw them in.

8. Work on your body language

Obviously, we don’t want to have arrogant body language, but neither do we want to seem shy or awkward. We’re aiming for confident body language and eye contact. Often, arrogant body language is confident body language taken too far. There are some key differences that you can look out for.

ConfidentArrogant
Makes eye contact with the person they’re talking toLooks around the room or checks their phone
Gestures with open handsPoints or uses a closed fist for emphasis
Keeps chin level or very slightly liftedKeeps chin lifted high and looks down at others
Has a genuine smileSmirks
Speaks in a similar volume to othersRaises voice or uses a slow, patronizing tone
Leans slightly forwardLeans back or crosses arms
Respects other people’s personal spacePushes into others’ personal space
Nods frequentlyStays very still or rolls eyes

False modesty and humblebragging is particularly arrogant behavior. Not only are we trying to show off about something, but we are assuming that the other person won’t notice our underhand way of doing it. That might explain why people find it particularly unattractive and insincere.[5]

Be honest when you want other people to join you in celebrating your achievements. Try saying:

“Hey guys. I just managed to do something I’m really proud of, and I’ve been so excited to tell you about it.”

Make sure that you thank them (genuinely) when they’re pleased for you and tell them how much their support means to you. Also, choose your timing carefully. Don’t bring up your achievements immediately after someone else has just shared theirs. Give them their time in the spotlight. Remember that you are asking the group to give you their time and attention, and you don’t want to interrupt a conversation to do it.

10. Be punctual

Being consistently late isn’t always a sign of being arrogant. Sometimes you might be overly optimistic about what you can achieve in a period of time, or you might have too many urgent things to do.[6]

But being late all the time, especially if you expect others to wait for you, can be a sign that you see your time as more important than theirs.

Try to always be on time to meet people. Even though I know it’s important, I still really struggle with this. Now, I’m careful to make sure people understand that I don’t want them to wait for me. I might be late, but I show I care about them by making sure that the only person who loses out when I’m late is me.

11. Learn about people who are truly exceptional

If you’re still struggling to set aside your own sense of superiority, try learning about people who are deeply exceptional, especially ordinary people who show immense compassion. When I need a reminder about humility (or need to renew my faith in humanity), I listen to interviews with holocaust survivors. It’s heartbreaking, but hearing people who have endured so much talk about others with such immense compassion, grace, and even love never fails to move me. Try to find someone whose compassion touches you. The more you aspire to compassion, the harder it is to hold on to arrogance.

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Natalie Watkins writes about socializing for SocialPro. She holds a B.A. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, an M.S.c. in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience from the University of London, and is currently in her final year of an MSc in Integrative Counselling at the University of Northampton.

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