How to balance cockiness and confidence to get what you want in the workplace

You know the types.  Their ego walks in the door before they do.  They love talking about how good they are, what they have achieved with little or no level of self-awareness. Their belief in themselves often outweighs their interest, or desire, to see the needs of others. Their concern is with themselves and how things impact them. Yep, they have fallen trap to the ‘ego monkey’.  That silent whisperer that sits on their shoulders and tells them that people are much more interested in them than they actually are.  Their ego distorts their perspective of self. And it happens easily and it’s damaging.  To them and the people around them.

But not all ego is bad.  Ego is described as a person’s level of self-worth or self-belief.  We all need a healthy level of ego to achieve in life, work and relationships.  In fact, we all deserve it.  But when it tips over to arrogance it is unhealthy.  And it can distance us from people around us and from our own personal growth.

It gets in the way as we are no longer as open to feedback from others about ourselves, or others perspective.  And because we are so cocky we are not enjoyable to be around.  We make things all about ourselves, it comes across as narcissistic.  And even if our conversations are calculatingly about others, they smell it.  After all, people hear your content, but they smell your intent.  If you believe you are better than someone else, they will sense it and your words don’t make the difference you are hoping for.

Many of you will have seen or are aware of diagnostic tools to measure the culture of a team or organisation. One that I like is Human Synergistics ‘OCI®’ (Organizational Culture Inventory®). This tool allows organisations to understand what type of culture they have and more deeply, the behaviours and performance of their people.

In its most simple explanation, the data is split into three categories:

  1. Aggressive and defensive: These cultures are highly competitive, with each other. They remain in silos, hold back information, do not value collaboration. This leads to mixed performance and volatility.
  2. Passive/defensive: These cultures are nice. Nice is good but it’s often ineffective in pushing things forward. People are not comfortable with challenging the status quo, and innovation and creativity do not occur. People are not comfortable taking risks or being vulnerable.
  3. Constructive: These cultures get things done. They deal with conflict in a healthy way. They hold each other to account and push ideas and strategies forward, which leads to effectiveness and sustainability.

While we need a combination of all of these styles for an organisation and its people to perform at their best, we mostly need bulk of the ‘Constructive’ style of leading and dealing with each other. This style can push through the awkwardness of tough situations and conversations and deal with things as they arise. This is where we are at our most productive, highly engaged and profitable or successful.

When they are unhealthy egos, from a cultural perspective an arrogant culture operates with high levels of competition.  It’s a survival of the fittest.  Conflict, the unhealthy type, is the norm. Blaming and finger pointing becomes a way of thinking rather than how do we work through the issue.  These cultures of types of people are toxic.  There are some industries that have higher levels of this than others such as consulting, financial services, the legal profession, property and sport.  But we now know that these cultures are not ideal.

So what would the opposite of this look like?  A humble workplace where people are interested in working as one and collaborating first.  Creativity thrives because people are ok with taking risks, people chose to work together and celebrate and work with differences, leaders offer their flaws and work around them rather than hide and people are committing to growing each other not bring each other down.

Why do we love and value people like Morgan Freeman, Michelle Obama, Roger Federa, Prince Harry and William, so much?  Yet we bring down (not personally but they get a lot of negative media attention) characters like Nick Kyrios, Mariah Carey, Davina #coconut (from Married at First Sight in case you haven’t watched it) or Kayne West.  Yes, they are super successful and highly skilled.  But not that respected nor liked.  It’s the difference between humility and arrogance.  Who would you prefer to endorce your product?  Or who would you believe when it comes to buying something from them?

And then sometimes we see others confidence as cockiness.  Because our relationship to confident people is skewed.  Confidence is not the enemy.  Arrogance is.

So how do we build great relationships and make great decisions to create more constructive cultures and relationships?  It’s start with how we communicate and collaborate.  And the bottom line is;

We hear your content.  Yet we smell your intent.  10% of conflicts are due to difference of opinion (content), while 90% are due to tone (intent).

You can work on what you are saying, get the facts and examples clear, use elegant words and be super articulate but…. If your intent is to not authentic and coming from a good place people will know it.  Even if they don’t say it.  If you intent to is ‘win’ the conversation or ‘nail the sale’.  People will smell it.  If you’re intent is to show them you are right and they are wrong you can’t package that up so they don’t see it.

Can you see how differently your conversation would be if YOU were different. If your intent came from a better perspective. I’m telling you, I would want to talk to you if you came with an open mind and one of understanding than one of blame and frustration.

 We need conversations, not accusations.  Arrogance does not hide when we work and talk with people.  Nor does humility.  The difference is your intent.

So bbefore you have that conversation. Be still. Breathe. Ask yourself. What am I bringing to the conversation that will serve it?  What am I bringing to the conversation that will detract from it.  What’s my heart?  My attitude?  My thinking?

So how do we balance cockiness and confidence?  Work on yourself first and take responsibility for how you treat others .. that’s when humility follows.


Georgia Murch

Georgia Murch is the expert in creating feedback cultures. She is the best-selling author of Fixing Feedback and has just launched her new book, Feedback Flow; The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to Embed Change in 90 Days. For more information on how Georgia can help your organisation visit

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