Baffled: confident vs. arrogant?
I've noticed this is an ongoing theme. A commenter on FSP's latest post said she finds comfort in knowing that even insecure people can do well in science.
I would argue that many insecure people are successful in science, but unfortunately most of them have developed coping skills that are damaging to everyone around them.
One common defense mechanism is the tendency to lash out when feeling threatened. Since confident people don't often feel threatened, I've learned that usually when people are defensive or playing dirty, it's because they lack confidence.
In support of this hypothesis, some commenters on this blog accuse me of being arrogant.
In my experience in real life, when people I thought were arrogant revealed their insecurities to me, I realized I was just jealous because they seemed so confident or otherwise successful when I am not.
In some ways, this is an issue that has long hurt women in the workplace.
Confident women are labeled as aggressive or bitchy.
To help clarify this discussion, I will paraphrase a couple of definitions of Confident from the free dictionary I found via Google:
"Marked by assurance, as of success."
"Very bold; presumptuous."
"Having or diplaying overbearing self-worth or self-assurance."
"Assumption of one's superiority over others."
So I have to wonder, is Arrogant the new Bitchy?
I was thinking about this because a friend was telling me how she realized her boss thinks she's a knowitall, and she has to fix this.
She's not a knowitall. At all.
I know this because she frequently calls me to confirm her ideas. Most of the time she's on the right track and doesn't need any help from me, but she does need that validation, that little boost of confidence. If she were a knowitall, would she need that?
But somehow her boss is threatened by her, I think, and so she has to make a point to reveal her doubts and sources more often to help alleviate this misimpression (I just made that word up, does it sound Bushy enough?).
In my experience, I can't win either way. If I give credit to my colleagues, I'm told not to because it undermines my Authority as an Expert.
But I get labeled "arrogant" or "knowitall" when I want to present my original ideas in papers or talks.
I have to assume this is partly because I'm female (oh yes, and "young"). I can only think of one female colleague who is outspoken about her original ideas, so I don't have enough data points for comparison. She is exactly the type who could be considered "arrogant" if you don't know her personally vs. "confident" (in a good way) if you do.
But being confident doesn't mean you never doubt yourself. Or does it?
What really baffles me is that my male colleagues who are similarly outspoken about their ideas are definitely arrogant. And even if they are not, they seem arrogant, which is effectively all that matters.
But contrary to the negative effects for women, appearing arrogant earns men more respect, not less.
This may not be true everywhere, but it is how I perceive the situation where I work.
Is this yet another thing that is worse in academia, I wonder?