Arrogance > Shyness. I hope.
April 29, 2007 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Exactly how does shyness come across as arrogance? What's the difference between arrogance and confidence?

While researching anxiety questions here, I found several comments from shy folks who had been called arrogant (not by the posters here but someone in real time). I understand how a smarty-pants could come across as arrogant, but shy people?

Also, what's the difference between arrogance and confidence?

I'm trying to figure out when arrogance is an apt description of someone and when it's an...insult/taunt/epithet. Thanks.
posted by whitneykitty to Human Relations (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Shyness may be confused with aloofness; not talking or interacting, or staying apart from others might seem arrogant.

As for the difference between confidence and arrogance; arrogance is, necessarily, something expressed to others, while confidence need not be. Arrogance involves putting yourself above others, claiming to be better than others, while confidence does not necessarily make any claims about the ability of others.

Confident: "I believe I can climb that mountain."
Arrogant: "I can climb that mountain, which is more than any of you can do."
posted by Jimbob at 7:44 PM on April 29, 2007

Because people don't do well with folks who are quiet, reserved and even the slightest bit withdrawn--extroversion is, for good or ill, a kind of default expected mode of behavior. To not be outgoing and friendly is seen as not normal.

And I don't think you can discount the intimidation factor--people who don't feel the need to jibber incessantly are mysterious to a degree.

I've been shy my whole life--I've found workarounds just to avoid dealing with the constant misinterpretation of my behavior (or, really, lack thereof). It's a little exhausting but oftentimes, the onus is on the less typical personality type to smooth the waters, socially speaking.
posted by gsh at 7:45 PM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to be very, VERY, shy.

Then I got a job as an investigative journalist, which precluded being shy, since the job involved knocking on the doors of complete strangers and demanding that they give me information.

I learned not to be shy in about four weeks flat.

What a huge gift that was.

I'm not saying there aren't people who are so shy that they are paralysed by regular social situations, but I do know that in my case a paralysing shyness was cured very simply by some re-learning of behaviour, and it enormously improved my life.

I simply don't worry about social situations any more. I don't necessarily ENJOY them, but they are not a mental challenge at all. In fact, professionally, I'm known as 'being good in a big room', (where big=important), which is funny to me because it's so at odds with who I used to be.
posted by unSane at 7:55 PM on April 29, 2007

Jimbob has it. Shyness is often misunderstood as aloofness, leading people to wonder about the shy person and often misapply arrogance. This has actually happened to me at work before. My coworkers somehow thought I was being arrogant or super confident when in reality I was not merely shy, but had a decently troublesome case of social anxiety at the time.

One of my coworkers asked our boss to intervene because she said I made her feel somehow inadequate. She came to me crying over it, and told me I had so much confidence, which was news to me. The boss called me and the coworker in one day and I felt totally in the hot seat, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Now, of course I understand the misapplied characteristics, but then I was rather lost.

It's very hard for a person with anxiety, especially, to be in those situations. When you keep to yourself it gives off an air that you don't care or that you're unapproachable, which is often not the case. Many people with anxiety actually do want to be approached, and might do fine when someone else does it, but couldn't do so themselves.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:57 PM on April 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

When you're talking to someone or trying to include someone in conversation and they don't respond or respond with curt answers it comes across as arrogant and rude. There are times when I've tried to engage someone in conversation in a social setting and have been put off, right or wrongly, by their dismissive behavior. Specific instances I can think of are where social interaction is expected at the pleasantries level and when someone comes off as cold or bored it can often come off as they are not wanting to be in the situation and rather be somewhere else, e.g., arrogant.
posted by geoff. at 8:06 PM on April 29, 2007

Confidence is when you feel good about yourself and your abilities. Arrogance is when you beleive you are better than others, to the point that you don't believe they are worth your time or attention or kindness. So when shy people don't talk or approach others, it can be misread as the shy person judging others as being beneath them.

I think 'arrogant' is always a negative description, even when it's accurate. If you want to describe someone as simply 'beleiving in themselves' or having high self-esteem, then 'confident' is more appropriate. Arrogant is more confident+judgemental+sense of superiority.
posted by Kololo at 8:23 PM on April 29, 2007

What Jimbob said.

To which I might add one other possible angle: arrogance can also involve an element of hubris, which is misplaced self-confidence. Self-confidence backed by ability is one thing, self-confidence out of proportion to one's actual talents is another, and the latter is often labelled as arrogance.

This can feed into the misinterpretation of shyness as arrogance also, as the shy person may be perceived to be behaving in an aloof manner which is seen to be out of proportion to his or her actual 'place'.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:09 PM on April 29, 2007

As a previously intensely shy person, I'd suggest -- in addition to what's been said so far -- that the aloofness thing is partly the "good face" that the shy person presents in those crippling anxiety-inducing social situations. That is, being shy means that you have to work so hard to hold it together in a stressful situation that the absolute best you can do is act like you've got it together so that you feel even vaguely socially acceptable. And so it comes across as aloofness, even if you're a mess on the inside.
posted by prettypretty at 9:13 PM on April 29, 2007

To me, the central difference between confidence and arrogance is self-esteem. People who are confident hold themselves in high esteem. People who are arrogant only pretend to, whether they realize it or not. To take what jimbob said a little further: when you see someone using a lot of social comparison, that is a true sign of a low self-esteem; people who are confident don't need to compare themselves to others to believe that they are great. People who are confident don't need to brag as a way to get other people's esteem, because they already have their own.
posted by liberalintellect at 9:33 PM on April 29, 2007

I heard a guy lay it out like this once: 'So, as a shy person, you're more concerned with people's possible reaction to you than you are with them. How is that not arrogant?'

That's damn harsh, and several shy years later, I'm still not sure how fair or true it is. But I've kept it in the back of my mind in impending social interactions ever since.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:42 PM on April 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

Thank you for the replies so far. It sounds like calling someone arrogant or tarring them with that brush is a way of cutting them down to size? Or am I reading the answers incorrectly?

I've been called arrogant twice. Both times by men older than me who felt they were doing me favors (all aboveboard) -- one was my boss several years ago and the other was a friend of the family who...I'm not exactly sure what he was doing. Imagine the male counterpart of the nosy-church-lady and you've got him.

I'm hoping if I understand where they're coming from or their thought process, then I can avoid being called arrogant in the future by similar folks. (I was going to write I wasn't building shrines in their names out of gratitude for the jobs or connections. It does sound arrogant. Aargh.)

Echoing other posters here, being an introvert is hard work.
posted by whitneykitty at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2007

i think the problem is a matter of engagement. shyness-induced aloofness can be interpreted as condescending (i.e. "i do not find you worthy of my time or attention."). this is especially likely if you are successful and people know it.

confidence and arrogance are shades of the same penny (mixing metaphors, yay!). the difference is usually made by a warm smile and genuine engagement.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:57 PM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bess introduces Shy Susie to Insecure Ira.

Ira: Hi there Susie.
Susie: Hi. (looks down, withdraws quietly from the conversation)
Ira to Bess: So, she thinks she's too good for me, huh?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 PM on April 29, 2007 [9 favorites]

Echoing other posters here, being an introvert is hard work

Being an introvert in social situations is hard work, but you probably don't find it tough to spend time alone, which drives extroverts up the wall, so you win some, you lose some.

I like the neat distinction between introverts & extroverts that comes as part of the Myers-Briggs personality profile: an extrovert *gains* energy when interacting with others; an introvert *expends* energy (where energy can be read in a psychological / emotional sense).

In this way, introverts can actually behave in quite an extroverted, sociable manner, but the thing is that it depletes them of energy, requiring time off to recharge - typically, on their own.

A bit off-topic, but I thought I'd throw that in, anyway.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:19 AM on April 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Being an introvert in social situations is hard work, but you probably don't find it tough to spend time alone

Being more introverted, I still actually prefer to be in others' company than alone. I'm definitely nowhere near an extrovert.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:33 AM on April 30, 2007

Shyness and egotism are very easy to mistake. It's simply a matter of getting to know someone better. And the difference between arrogance and confidence: you're confident if you have a reason to be so; you're arrogant if there's no reason to be confident. Obviously it's a subjective thing.
posted by zardoz at 12:34 AM on April 30, 2007

As a shy person, my verbal responses to people are often clipped and curt. My body language and voice are so reserved and understated that they barely seem to acknowledge the other person. This is done out of fear and panic (and trying to hide both), but gets interpreted as dismissing the other person (a cashier, someone holding a door for me, some random friendly person who tries to strike up a conversation with me). The other person acts a little offended, reinforcing the shy person's belief that they are unable to socialize...
posted by DarkForest at 5:15 AM on April 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of it comes when the individual in question shows two sides. If somebody who is naturally shy is seen talking openly with a friend or colleague (because they've known them for years), but doesn't behave the same way around somebody new, then it is often misconstrued as arrogance. If they never talk to anybody, then they will be thought of as that quiet, shy guy/girl.

Arrogance is often just a step past confidence into a feeling of superiority over your fellow man. Except when it's just a show, then it's actually very much like shyness.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:49 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of it comes when the individual in question shows two sides.

I agree with this. My college roommates would hear me on the phone with my sister in the next room, and then experience the silent treatment from me because I wasn't even slightly comfortable talking to them. I didn't think about how it looked to an outsider until one of them actually confronted me about it. I was shocked at how angry she was about it.

I think it could be the same when a coworker sees you getting through the necessary interactions you're required to do if you want to keep your job (talking to clients or a boss) but then unable to engage in more casual socialization in the workplace.
posted by jheiz at 7:21 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with Kisch Mokusch. I am an intensely shy person and have been all my life, but there was a time where I tried to mask this by becoming arrogant. Since I was younger than my peers in school and much more 'learned', many of my classmates assumed I was some genius. The attention that was given to my smarts quickly became something I craved and fed my complex. I became more sarcastic, more condescending. All the while I was inwardly cringing and frightened that someone would find out my secret, and then no one would talk to me. Being feared and talked about is better than nothing, right?

I find myself lapsing into what seems like condescending behaviour when socialising with new people. It's not my aim to offend people - it's just that my shyness restricts how well I can interact with others. However, I get labelled as 'arrogant' more than 'shy', so it must be something in my body language. For instance, it takes a long while for me to look at someone in the eye. A former co-worker was even more painfully shy than I am but no one ever tarred her with the arrogant label. She used to shake whenever someone approached, and I think this would make people feel more protective towards her.
posted by sweetlyvicious at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2007

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