Self-Confident or Cocky – Which Are You?
By Eric Kaufmann, July 14, 2016
Sandra was exasperated, “Al is regularly late to our meetings,” she shared in frustration, “and when he finally arrives he consistently interrupts everyone with his commentary. Then, when someone disagrees with his comments he tries to prove that he’s better than us and goes on to aggressively explain why he’s right.” Then she went on, “he’s so cocky, I’m frustrated about how to manage him!”
Confidence is a requisite leadership quality – crossing the threshold of the comfort zone , making difficult or non-obvious decisions, and connecting meaningfully with people as you guide them through uncertainty – without which followership is difficult to gain. But being cocky, dismissive, and overbearing is the opposite of confidence and it dissolves followership.
Before we can talk about cockiness, we have to understand the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem. Self-confidence is situational; it rises and falls with circumstances. When my boss, for example, promoted me I felt a swelling wave of confidence. By the following week, though, my confidence shrunk as I realized that I wasn’t fully capable and trained for my new responsibilities. Self-esteem, however, is cumulative; it grows over time from birth and strengthens when we succeed in challenges and receive meaningful developmental feedback and love.
Imagine for a moment that your psyche is a tree trunk. Self-esteem is like the hard woody center of the tree – the core trunk – that grows and expands year after year. In dry years the growth is minimal, but when conditions are favorable, the core grows by adding a strong ring of wood. Self-confidence, on the other hand, is the bark of the tree – the outer layer that is affected by the sun, wind, birds, and kids with pocketknives.
While our self-confidence can wax and wane in reaction to situational influences of work, relationships, and finances, our self-esteem is a long term process. Cocky people, more often than not, are using their behavior to mask their weak self-esteem.
Praise alone, or honor without effort, does not build personal strength and self-esteem; this growth requires achievement through trial and effort. In his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden said, “Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living.” Self-esteem grows and strengthens through the acquisition of competence which, in turn, grows from practice, purpose, grit, and feedback. Cockiness, on the other hand, is a protective behavioral strategy aimed at hiding insecurity and fear. Here are four dimensions of behavior that highlight the difference between a self-confident and cocky person:
Collaboration: A self-confident person has the personal strength to share work, share praise, and give up some control for the greater good.
A cocky person takes a “my way or the highway” approach in order to maintain their façade of strength and control.
Attention: A self-confident person listens attentively; paraphrases, asks open ended questions, and clarifies for understanding.
A cocky person listens only for material that interest them; returning the focus to them, interjecting, and matching ideas and content.
Accountability: A self-confident person is willing to take responsibility for their life and actions.
A cocky person seeks to blame other and situations for their failures of mistakes.
Humility: A self-confident person accepts that they aren’t the center of the universe.
A cocky person insists that they are the center of the universe.
Cockiness is an aggressive form of masking weakness. Rather than being threatened or annoyed by a cocky person, see if you can help them cultivate a real sense of self-confidence. And consider these ideas for managing a cocky person:
1. Keep your distance: this is an obvious one, but not always easy to implement with a co-worker or boss.
2. Set boundaries: you have every right to determine what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable to you. Declare your boundaries and stick to them.
3. Practice mindful observation: Notice. Pay attention to the details of what they’re doing. Observe and evaluate them from a mental distance rather than getting caught up in the story.
4. Be brief: You may have to counter their position or even protect yourself and your boundaries. In that case be succinct and to the point, given they are probably poor listeners and apt to turn your words against you.
5. Find your funny bone: A sense of humor is a powerful coping mechanism. No, don’t make fun of them in public, rather, put a lens of humor over your eyes and see how it affects your reaction to their antics; you won’t get as bought in as usual.