#1 Confidence Impostor: Cocky


Most people try to hide their shortcomings…especially when that shortcoming is a lack of confidence.  However, confidence isn’t something you can fake, and more often, when people try, they wind up overcompensating by being cocky.

“Cocky” is one of the behaviors we call a confidence impostor: it initially can appear to be confident but is actually false confidence that aims to impress at the expense of crushing other people’s genuine confidence. Even if you recognize that someone is cocky, you may still be intimidated by them, because you allow their lack of confidence to impact your own. Here are the ways to spot this confidence impostor, so that it doesn’t affect your own authentic confidence.

Cocky aims for only win-lose

Because cocky people cannot internally validate themselves, they seek validation externally. Think of the salesperson who says they’re doing you a favor but is obviously out of self-interest; or the businessperson who boasts incessantly about their connections or other seeming success. It’s true that some professional spheres attract cockiness, but when founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council were asked what they scout for in a sales position candidate, they named confidence and empathy—not cockiness—as top qualifiers. In fact, most sales articles argue that the domineering tactics that accompany cockiness are harmful to the workplace.

While we are accustomed to—even accepting of—cocky behaviors in our day-to-day, they are actually classic cases of bullying: since the cocky person feels deficient, he/she tries to feel bigger by making others feel smaller. But it backfires: The best-performing salespeople have been identified as open-minded, curious, collaborative, team-oriented, open to learning, and they aim for partnerships on every level type; all qualities that cockiness opposes. If it seems like someone is absorbed in their own capacity to “win,” there is a good chance they’re being cocky.

But the irony is, they’ve already lost.

Cocky is not smart or smarter
Clearly, cocky people don’t work well on teams, often putting team members down and disregarding or demeaning others’ contributions. You may have even been the target (or perpetrator) of some of these behaviors yourself. One such common behavior is “Smartest Person in the Room”, in which one person tries to establish and maintain his/her room rank by flaunting his/her knowledge or publicly correcting someone else.  The verbal victim feels small but, comfortingly, everyone sees through this game – and the real loser is the smarty-pants person who has not only failed to gain others’ respect—but who has further lost that respect by asserting cockiness.

So now you’re an expert at spotting fake confidence. But maybe you’ve spotted it in yourself. Don’t worry: Genuine confidence is something you can grow…once you strip away the mask of cockiness.

Unlike cockiness, genuine confidence is sound and secure; and it is not threatened by others. In fact, it bolsters others, so they can shine, too. Two American Psychological Association (APA) psychologists, Joseph Chancellor, Ph.D., and Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., proposed that there are five hallmarks of humility, all of which pointed to being secure in your identity, supportive of others, and open to new information.

One way to cultivate these qualities: Adopt a growth mindset. Developed by renowned psychologist and researcher, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., growth mindsets are the ability to learn, grow, and develop, rather than having fixed abilities that set you apart and never change. When you extract your ego from the equation and believe that everyone has the ability to grow and improve, you begin to scan for potential and effort. And that means you don’t feel entitled to what you achieve or the need to prove it to others. What’s more? You open yourself to new insights that your ego and pride distract you from absorbing – and that self-reflection is the fuel of authentic confidence. 

Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for research and editorial contribution to this post

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