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Arrogance needs advertising, confidence speaks for itself

Updated: May 3


Confidence and arrogance: on the surface two very similar personality traits, however they have significant differences at their core. Throughout my rowing career I have had my share of issues with confidence, fluctuating from low to high and back.


When I’m at my best, nothing feels out of reach due to a firm trust and belief that the training and race plan would come to fruition. I’ll never forget how I felt on finals day of international rowing event Henley Royal Regatta 2021. With an expectation on me to win one of the most prestigious rowing events in the world, I was almost overcome with nerves, but these were offset by my unwavering belief that what we had planned to do would happen (it did, convincingly).


However, is that confidence or arrogance? What do each look like?

Understanding the difference is imperative to stay collaborative and successful in any area of life. Confidence is a positive trait associated with healthy self-image and respect for others. It does not arise through the absence of self doubt, nerves or failure, but in fact the opposite. Michael Jordan famously said, ‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life- and that is why I succeed.’ Arrogance is a negative trait characterised by an inflated ego and a lack of regard for others. The distinction between the two lies in how individuals perceive themselves and interact with others.


 

What does this look like day to day?


1) Attitude towards others: A confident individual is self-assured and believes in their abilities. They respect others and are open to feedback. An honest understanding of your abilities allows you to highlight weaknesses that can be redressed by another team member.

The confidence comes from realising what’s good for the team is good for the individual. This is imperative to creating a good team culture and success. An arrogant individual may struggle to see this because they view the success of others as a threat to themselves. They might belittle others, dismiss their opinions or behave in a superior manner.


2) Self-image: ‘Arrogance needs advertising, confidence speaks for itself’. A confident person displays a positive self-image, comfortable with their strengths and weaknesses. An arrogant individual has an inflated sense of self-importance and may seek constant recognition or validation, perhaps overstating their achievements and abilities.


3) Humility and openness: Confident individuals are humble, open to asking for help and learning from mistakes. An arrogant individual will likely resist this type of behaviour, perceiving asking for help as a sign of weakness. As an athlete I have found this tricky, particularly over the past 18 months since being diagnosed with RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport). Prior to my diagnosis, I felt constantly tired and my athletic performance was gradually declining. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t reach out for help for fear of being seen as weak. As is often the way, the longer you leave a problem the worse it gets. I became so unwell I could barely get out of bed, yet alone row. Looking back, I should have welcomed these ‘failings’, as failing and understanding our limitations is how we grow.


4) Interaction style: Confident people encourage healthy discussions by expressing their opinions and ideas assertively without dominating conversations. An arrogant individual will often seek attention and control by dominating or monopolising conversations, and will dismiss differing viewpoints. For example, a confident team leader may delegate a task to a subordinate, as that colleague might have more knowledge in the given field. An arrogant team leader may dismiss other ideas in preference to their own and make their colleagues feel under-valued.


5) Impact on relationships: Confidence enhances relationships by fostering trust and mutual respect. Confident individuals are generally pleasant to be around. Arrogance can strain relationships as it can alienate and frustrate others, in turn pushing them away. Through my experience of elite sport, my best seasons have come whilst working with a confident coach. They are pleasant to be around, see questions as opportunities to learn, rather than a threat, and subsequently make you believe no result is out of reach. This creates mutual respect, along with winning results.


 

But is all arrogance bad? While arrogance is generally considered a negative trait due to its potential to alienate and create friction, it's important to note that not all forms of arrogance are entirely bad.

In fields where expertise is crucial, highly knowledgeable and competent individuals might come across as arrogant due to their confidence in their abilities. This type of arrogance can be acceptable when it is backed by actual expertise. When I first joined Leander Club in 2019, I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to learn from more experienced, successful athletes who had won multiple World or even Olympic medals. Or there are times in leadership roles where quick decisions need to be made, when a level of arrogance can be effective, given it is balanced with listening to others' input and being open to feedback.

Arrogance can also work in professional contexts when it’s necessary to showcase one's skills and accomplishments – for example a job interview. And finally, individuals may use arrogance as a motivational tool for themselves or their teams, setting high expectations and pushing for excellence.


 

It is essential to be aware of how your behaviour affects others. If your actions cause discomfort or hinder collaboration, adjust your approach. Equally, if your assertiveness or motivation is helping others strive towards excellence, keep it up! The best rowing coaches are aware of how they make athletes feel. We are all different and have a unique set of needs; get to know your team and find out how to best to behave and communicate.



While it is clear confidence is the more positive trait, it is fair to say there is a time and a place for arrogance. It is crucial to use confidence (and confidence manifested into arrogance) in a constructive, balanced way, whilst always showing respect for others. Being aware of how your behaviour affects others is essential to success and self-growth, in any walk of life.



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