Balancing confidence and humility in any relationship, be it personal or professional, is a real skill. The first step is to become aware of what the two are. Author of The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory, Françoise Simpère writes:
“Arrogance…is generally a cover for a chronic lack of self-confidence.To be specific, self-confidence is when one is aware of his or her qualities without falling victim to false modesty. Humility allows one to recognise quietly that even though he or she is a wonderful person, there may be qualities that he or she lacks. An individual with a balanced ego is fully aware of his or her own existence and does not need others to confirm it. He or she is interested in others because of who they are, and not because of a need to see him or herself as a reflection in their admiring eyes.”
Their dictionary definitions are as follows:
confidence: a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
humility: the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance.
The key things to note about confidence are:
It’s a feeling, not knowledge, action etc.
It’s about you, not others.
It’s about self-awareness.
So being confident requires awareness of self rather than others, and it needs to be balanced by a sense of modesty. But, as Simpère cautions, not false modesty. So it’s not about feeling unimportant — it’s just about moderating your sense of importance. Particularly in professional relationships, it’s important to see your customer or client as more important than you, while retaining an appreciation of your abilities and qualities, one of which needs to be humility.
Simpère says arrogance is a sign of chronic lack of confidence. I think over-confidence also often shows as arrogance, or at least as a lack of care for and interest in the other person.
The balance of confidence and humility is not static. It’s a dance. You need to keep adjusting your sense of both. So, a balanced ego comes from the inner awareness of how confident or humble it is appropriate to be in any given situation.
Engaging with diversity requires a similar dance. It requires you to be confident in your identity while having the humility to know that there will be aspects of others’ identities that you won’t know. I’ve observed arrogance in people who are both over- and under-confident in their understanding of diversity. A lack of humility stops them asking questions, checking that they’ve got things right and apologising if they haven’t, without getting into guilt or shame.
A balanced ego is an asset to foster in all aspects of life. Get dancing!
Philip Patston began his career 25 years ago as a counsellor and social worker, and he is the founder of DiversityNZ. Philip lives in New Zealand and is recognised locally and overseas as a social and creative entrepreneur with fifteen years’ experience as a professional, award-winning comedian. His passion is working with people when they want to explore and extend how they think about leadership, diversity, complexity and change.