Walking the Fine Line Between Confidence and Arrogance

One of the great perks of my job is working with very smart individuals. During our coaching sessions I am always fascinated by their expertise and how they navigate complex issues.

Smart people who deliver results are typically very confident. Sometimes; however, very bright individuals with a proven record, can come across very strongly, either as opinionated or worse, arrogant. These are people who see such a clear and obvious path to a solution that they don’t consider other’s input.

When Confidence is Mistaken for Arrogance

One of my clients is a perfect example of this. He’s a PhD with great experience and is scientifically minded. In his view, with research and data, one can only reach certain conclusions. He’s amazing at his job and because of his expertise, he is very quick at resolving complex situations. Yet, he presents himself as almost too confident… more like he is arrogant. The speed and process for which he solves issues makes some people feel uneasy or intimidated. Even though he doesn’t mean to make others feel this way, his resolve is so strong and core to his personality that it’s affecting his opportunities at work.

This type of perceived arrogance causes a lot of workplace problems:

  • People around him may distance themselves emotionally or isolate him from the team. This disconnect dramatically lowers the team performance as no one seeks my client’s proven expertise on issues. Even though the team might benefit from his wisdom, they are too afraid to seek it.
  • Colleagues feel threatened and undervalued because they perceive whatever they say is never good enough. Feeling humiliated or belittled ensures they will not contribute their expertise to team efforts thus lowering the team potential output even further.
  • Individuals like my client are worried they must change, dumb-down their answers, or walk on egg shells, trying to show their sensitivity. It’s exhausting and significantly affects their output, which leads to animosity within the team.
  • A weak boss who cannot handle the drive, determination and the results that these personality types bring forward can feel threatened, become more confrontational and decrease his or her overall leadership effectiveness. Once again, the whole team is affected.

If you’re a fan of the TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” lead character Sheldon Cooper is a classic example of this type of personality. His persnickety “don’t tell me anything I don’t already know” perspective accentuates how he values the results much more than the journey needed to get there. He’d rather solve issues by himself than collaborate with individuals who don’t recognize his talents, drive and determination… infuriating everyone around him in the process.

So how can you manage these tendencies or manage someone like this?

  1. Soften your Language. Use words that are less radical or moralistic. Avoid statements such as, “It needs to be done this way.” Or, “The way to go is this way… “ Instead, make suggestions which ask for input… “I suggest to do it this way.” Or, “I’m thinking this could work… what do you think?”
  2. Validate Team-Wide Input.  Instead of always correcting the person, you might want to validate what they are saying, highlight what is potentially missing and either asking the person to fill in the blank or to suggest a solution.  “This is a great start, I like that you mentioned A,B and C. I think we are missing X and Y. How do you see resolving this?”
  3. Authenticate the Value of Team Work. “Scientific” personalities, stick to the facts. Are they aware of the 33% factor? It is proven that you accomplish more as a team by 33% than if you do it individually. Yes, going the team route might take more time, but it’s worth it in the end.
  4. Find another boss! If all else fails, you might need to find a new boss. Weaker managers are clearly uncomfortable with this dynamic because they believe they can’t manage people like my client. A good, strong boss can easily handle this type of personality by providing him with clear direction and a good understanding of the sandbox in which to play.

Theoretically, personalities like Sheldon Cooper can overcome their issues by being more humble, seeking out other’s perspectives, being more sociable and using approachable body language. From a practical perspective, however, these smart people see those “theories” as a total waste of their time. They know that the fastest route from A to B is a straight line and anything that doesn’t contribute to that line is not valuable. As a manger, it’s key to appeal to their sense of logic. If you’re the individual, you need to know that Emotional Intelligence plays a huge role in high performing teams—and your career progression.

Eventually my client concluded that the best way to deal with his situation was to fine-tune his language but still be as driven, convincing and confident. He is learning to soften his approach, to use different language and decrease his intensity when required.  He is bright, he will get it and be a fantastic leader!

I encourage you to spend a few minutes this week to consider on which side of the line you or your team members walk. Until then…  Be Amazing!

Denis Levesque, CEC, PCC
Leadership Coach, Trainer and Speaker

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