How to Write with Humble Confidence

I love it when I get questions from readers of this newsletter in my inbox. LOVE. IT.

Laura Bosco sent me a question last week.

She asked: How can I help one of my clients sound humble and confident when we write for his brand?

On one hand we want to be confident in what we know, but on the other hand, we don't want to come across as arrogant. A lot of advice is situational, there are many gray areas, and plenty of folks are smarter than we are. So how do you strike a good balance between the two?


Such a great question. An important one, too.

Let's start with the humble part of this equation (since we all know too much confidence is a bad thing.)

Humble is a characteristic that's near and dear to me—a signature facet of Midwestern charm.

But can you be too humble? I think so.

When we’re too humble, we:

  • Play down our skills, intelligence, and/or accomplishments to the point where other people also discount our abilities

  • Discredit the hard work we do, thus making it look like everything is easy/doesn’t require much knowledge or effort

  • Cut away at our ethos as experts and are overlooked for new opportunities

Just the other day, this happened when I was trying to explain to someone what I do for a living.

I said something like, “Oh yeah, I write for software companies and basically just sit around in my PJs all day.”

NOT GOOD. Too humble.

From that description, it sounds like I just loaf around in sweatpants all day and occassionally do some sort of mystery work for tech companies. (This is basically accurate, but in reality I do have to work hard five days a week and I do occasionally get dressed for video calls!)

But you get my point.

The other end of the spectrum, however, is overconfidence.

Those are the people you meet at a party that go on for 10 minutes about all of the big name clients they work with, the exhauuuuusting work trips they’ve taken, how in demand they are for client work, etc. ad infinitum.

BLECK. Gross. This side of the spectrum is also where we get things like ‘mansplaining’ from. No thank you.

So how do you find that sweet spot between “Okayyy, WE GET IT, stahhhhpppp” and “Oh, you’re too modest”?

Look to Primility

My pal Jerod Morris talks about the idea of Primility—a blend of pride and humility.

There’s a major mindfulness component to this philosophy: Primility is all about being proud of what you know and what you have, but being humble enough to know how and when to share it.

Sounds pretty ideal, right?

The tough part is: It’s a bit of an abstract idea, and can be hard to study out in the wild. There are so many elements that make up this characteristic—and it looks different on different people.

So here are a few things I’m trying to keep in mind while writing and speaking to come across as both humble and confident—that exudes primility.

Show, don’t tell.

Anyone can spew statements, but those with humble confidence take the time to illustrate the ‘why’ behind the points they make. It takes longer and requires more work, but going the extra mile to say, “Hey, I know X thing and here’s how” is far better than “THIS IS A FACT. End of story. Mic drop.”

Remember your opinions are just that. Opinions.


Leaving room for other POVs means that you recognize you’re just one person with one opinion. Remember your opinion isn’t the be-all end-all. If you respond to opposition to your opinions by firing back in a negative or angry way, you’ll probably just end up looking like a small-minded a**hole.

Resist the urge to flex.


Our animal brains tell us to flex our muscles and to tell everyone when we’re the smartest person in the room, right? We have to resist that peacock-like urge, though. No one likes the person who hogs the spotlight...and it doesn’t add ethos. It just makes you look like a jerk.

Let other people validate you.

Lean on elements of social proof like testimonials and results produced that can speak volumes for your abilities. You don’t need to toot your own horn too much. Let other people do it for you. It’ll look and feel a lot more authentic anyway.

***

Personally, I’m working on getting better at this all the time. My problem is that sometimes I think I’m too quiet, and could speak up a little more to share what I know. It’s a balance, just like anything else.

I will say that listening to podcasts with interviews has helped. It’s interesting to see how different people tackle questions and what makes certain people sound like know-it-alls versus those that sound self-aware and confidently intelligent.

As I listen, I try to make notes on what turns of phrase come across as humble yet confident, as well as what sounds the alarm on the alternate end of the spectrum. It’s helpful to get some outside perspective.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.

P.S. To my freelance/business-owning ladies: Exciting announcement! A friend and I are putting on a small group retreat this spring in Austin and you're invited. Get the details here (only a few spots remain!)