There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and believe it or not, I learned this little tidbit from Mila Kunis. The Bad Moms actress once said, “Knowing who you are is confidence,” and that cockiness is “knowing who you are and pushing it down everyone’s throat.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being true to your authentic self, but what I think the fabulous Mrs. Kutcher was getting at here is this: The difference between confidence and arrogance is that, for someone who is confident, being comfortable in their own skin is enough, and that shows in their demeanor. Someone who is overconfident, on the other hand, might start teetering on the brink of cockiness by being the kind of person who makes everything in life all about themselves. And, don’t get me wrong: It’s fantastic to be able to figure out who you are and take pride in that. But how can you really tell when self-assurance crosses the line from confidence to arrogance?
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the differences between confidence and arrogance are subtle enough that you might not even realize how your demeanor is being received by other people. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being true to yourself and having genuinely high self-esteem — these are both excellent character traits that a lot of people work hard to possess. However, confidence can become an issue when it starts to make the people around you feel inferior. The good news, though, is that this is one of those situations where you can have your cake and eat it, too. In other words, there are plenty of ways to be confident without coming off as arrogant — it's all about your body language.
Here's how the study went: According to ScienceDaily, a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame recruited a group of participants and asked them to meet with a series of collaborators and advisers. Based on how the collaborators presented themselves — confidently or cautiously — participants were then asked which candidate they would be more inclined to work with. On average, the study found that the participants tended to lean toward people who exerted more confidence — but there was a catch. Once the participants were told a collaborator was actually overly confident, whereas the seemingly more cautious contender was actually just more reserved, they leaned toward the "less confident" individual. In other words, confidence is a good thing, but overconfidence seems to be an almost immediate turnoff.
So you have your cake, but how can you eat it, too? According to the results of this latest research, the trick to staying confident, and taking pride in said confidence without coming off as outwardly arrogant, is to show your self-assurance in a nonverbal way. Nathan Meikle, an author of the study and a teaching associate in the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, said in a statement for ScienceDaily that “overly confident candidates [who] expressed their confidence nonverbally” remained the most trusted and desirable choice in the experiment, “even when revealed to be over-the-top.” In other words, those who were clearly confident in the study, but not so in-your-face about it, were still considered to be likable and approachable by the participants.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “talk is cheap,” right? Well, according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, arrogant people “talk a good game, but can’t back up their claims with a solid foundation of skills and principles.” Confident people, on the other hand, “appear genuinely strong and convincing, with the skillset to back up their ability to exert their influence and promote their cause,” he tells Elite Daily. Translation: Arrogant people talk the talk, but confident people walk the walk, so if you want to be confident without coming off as arrogant, let your body do the talking.
Here’s the thing: Just like how your tone of voice can be telling of how you feel, psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC tells Elite Daily that, when you think you’re above someone else, or know better than they do, you’re likely going to communicate that, whether you consciously realize it or not, “through overtly saying it, dismissing people,” and, yes, even “in your body language,” she says. This means that, yes, your body might be doing just as much (if not even more) talking than you are, so it's worth taking a moment to check in with yourself, and how you present yourself to others, to ensure you aren't giving off the wrong vibe.
According to actress, PR professional, public speaker, and coach, Alison Haselden, there are some key differences in body language between confidence and arrogance. When I ask her to describe what confidence looks like, she tells Elite Daily over email that it involves “good posture, squared off shoulders and eye contact when speaking to others, warmth and openness in body language (no crossed arms or turned away when speaking),” and leaning forward as a symbol of engagement when speaking to others. Arrogance, she says, is when someone has a strong posture, holds their head up high, but also creates space between themselves and those whom they consider to be "less than" themselves. Someone who is arrogant will cross their arms, Haselden adds, “chin tilted up,” offer “subtle eye contact but not for too long,” and insist others “lean in to them than meet them on their level," she explains.
Haselden also says it's good to be mindful of the positioning of your arms when you're talking to someone. “Don't cross them in front of your chest or put hands on hips,” she tells Elite Daily over email.
The key, Haselden explains, is really to present yourself as someone who is open and empathetic toward others. “Start off with a strong and giving presence, smile genuinely, make eye contact, lean in, and really listen to what others have to say,” she says. When you give off the sense that you’re self-absorbed or pushing your views onto others, she explains, that’s when people may start to interpret your confidence as arrogance.
Bottom line: Do your best to stay cool, calm, and collected, and your confidence should be well received.