Consulting Career

Where is the line between self-confidence and cockiness?

Trying to describe cockiness vs self-confidence almost reminds me of that famous quote from the Supreme Court trying to describe obscene pornography.

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it”

A textbook hedge if I’ve ever seen one.

If I asked you to explain the difference between confidence and cockiness, what would you say?

One is unwarranted while the other based in fact?

One is exhibited tactfully while the other more brash, with less concern for other people’s feelings?

Or would you just say you know it when you see it, acknowledging a spectrum exists but having no real idea where to draw the line that separates the two?

People often reach out asking how to transition into management consulting. One of the many skills you want to hone is projecting self-confidence. Your longevity depends on it. And it has to be confidence in yourself that other people around you can feel, such that you’re the go-to provide solutions where others tried and failed. You have to have so much confidence you can solve any problem that people around you can’t help but to think the same. Oh, and you have to get results to back it up. That’s important too.

How do you know when your self-confidence has gone too far?

Here are three things that should tip you off:

1. Behaving like you’re the only person who can get a job done. Let’s be real, there are few jobs that can be done by one individual person. Stay humble and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have people continuing to want to work with you. As it turns out, humility and self-confidence aren’t mutually exclusive traits.

2. Talking to other people like they’re idiots. Even if you have more experience and/or knowledge than everyone in the room, talking to people like they don’t deserve to breathe the same air as you is generally going to be a turn-off. You might even be thinking this is obvious, but I assure you – if I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t mention it.

3. Acting like there’s only one way – your way – to achieve a goal. In most scenarios, there are at least two options. For consultants, this is particularly dangerous because we rarely have as much background on the details of a particular client’s situation.

Pushing your solution without listening to the warnings of the people who specialize in what they do can – and often will – end up with you looking like a fool.

It all boils down to paying attention to how people respond to what you’re doing, because one man’s confidence may come off as cocky to someone else. Read your audience and react accordingly.