When it comes to your professional life, there are quite a few fine lines you need to learn to walk. You need to be ambitious without being impatient, outspoken without being a steamroller, and polished without being too uptight.
It’s exhausting, really. But, as if trying to teeter on that tightrope wasn’t already challenging enough, there’s one more characteristic you need to try to effectively balance: Being confident and self-assured—without coming off like a totally cocky and pompous jerk.
Let’s face it—this is one we all struggle with. Whether in a job interview or a one-on-one with your boss, it’s tough to talk about your own accomplishments without feeling ridiculously braggy and self-promotional. But, as you already know, a healthy dose of confidence is also a desirable quality.
So, what are you supposed to do? How can you present yourself as successful and put together, without being over the top? Well, here are four times you’re just being self-assured—as well as four times you’re being plain ol’ arrogant.
1. You’re Being Confident When You’re Describing Your Qualifications
Let’s start with an obvious one first, shall we? When you’re straight up asked to speak about your own skills and successes—be it in an interview or even a performance review—that’s an open invitation for you to boast a little bit.
While it still might make you feel unbearably bigheaded, it’s necessary for you to sell yourself and send the message that you’re qualified and accomplished. Because, after all, nobody wants to hire the guy that says, “Gosh, I don’t like to brag,” when asked about his key skills.
But, You’re Being Cocky When You One-Up Somebody Else
Now, let’s just say you didn’t receive an open invite to start ranting and raving about yourself and all of the amazing things you’ve done to this point. Instead, someone else within earshot received a compliment on her own hard work and success.
You? Well, you feel the overwhelming desire to swoop in and top her with an even more admirable and applause-worthy story of your own personal triumphs. Needless to say, if you develop a reputation as a classic one-upper, you’re only going to come off as conceited—and pretty obnoxious, to boot.
2. You’re Being Confident When You Take Credit for Your Work
You work hard, and you deserve some recognition for the pieces of the puzzle that you contribute. Yes, it can be slightly uncomfortable to stand up and accept praise for your work without feeling like a toddler yelling, “Me, me, me!”
But, when you’ve rolled up your sleeves and played a significant role in the completion of a large project, you deserve a few solid pats on the back.
But, You’re Being Cocky When You Take Credit for Everything
That being said, nobody works in a vacuum. And, you don’t want to be that person who accepts all of the glory without ever shifting the spotlight to the other team members involved.
You can absolutely take credit for your own work. But, just make sure that you don’t neglect to recognize and appreciate others in the process—unless you want to run the risk of looking like a brash and unappreciative jerk.
3. You’re Being Confident When You Provide Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism can be a positive thing—as long as it’s offered in a positive way (ahem, you all know who you are).
And, while doling out suggestions to help other people improve can often feel like a patronizing and snobbish move, I promise it’s the mark of a self-assured team player that’s only trying to help others.
But, You’re Being Cocky When You’re Condescending
However, a friendly word of caution when it comes to offering constructive criticism: You need to tread carefully. Welcomed advice can be a positive trait.
But, if you’re just doling out critiques and eye rolls—or, even worse, insults—left and right, and repeatedly sticking your nose in business where it doesn’t belong? Well, then you’ve definitely crossed the line into cocky territory.
4. You’re Being Confident When You Accept Responsibility
Confident people don’t just hold their heads high when the praise and compliments are rolling in. They also stand tall and maintain their composure when the road gets a little rocky.
It seems somewhat counterintuitive that a confident person would readily accept disapprovals or negative critiques. But, it’s true—if you can manage to handle ridicule (not to mention a healthy dose of criticism) without trying to explain your way out of the situation, that’s the mark of someone who’s poised and respectable.
But, You’re Being Cocky When You Shift Blame
In contrast, arrogant people run the other direction at the first sight of a negative comment. They’ll quickly toss other people under the bus in order to save face and preserve their own reputations.
Shifting blame and trying to distance yourself from the fallout (particularly if you actually played a role in the outcome) is a surefire way to make yourself look like a backstabber—and a selfish and insecure one, at that.
There’s no denying that it can be difficult to navigate the murky waters between confidence and cockiness. However, there are a few different scenarios when it’s obvious you’re crossing the line. Keep these in mind, and you’re sure to strike the perfect balance.
Photo of man writing courtesy of GlobalStock/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author