We receive a lot of conflicting messages about humility. We are told that humility is a virtue and warned against becoming too self-absorbed or arrogant. But at the same time, we’re often told about the importance of building confidence. If being humble and confident seems like a contradiction, it might be because humility is a highly misunderstood characteristic.
This article will review the true meaning of humility as well as give tips and examples of ways to show humility without seeming insecure.
What is humility?
Despite the many misconceptions about humility, it is possible to be both humble and confident at the same time. Humility is often confused with having low self-esteem, but this isn’t true. Being humble doesn’t mean having a negative opinion of yourself—it means having an accurate opinion of yourself. An accurate opinion of yourself is one that includes awareness and acceptance of your strengths, as well as your flaws.
Humble people tend to have a very good sense of who they are and what they’re good at. They are often confident and self-assured. Their self-esteem isn’t easily threatened by the accomplishments or strengths of other people, so they don’t feel the need to compete, brag, or compare themselves to others. Instead, they are able to focus more on other people than themselves, which is a key part of most acts of humility.
How to be humble
Developing humility requires a shift in both your attitude and your actions. Changing your attitude involves adjusting the way you think and feel about others.
Being less judgmental, more open-minded, and more self-aware are all steps in this process. Changing your actions involves things you can do differently to be more humble and modest when interacting with other people. These include listening more, talking less about yourself, and asking for feedback.
Below are 10 ways to develop a more humble attitude and be more humble and down to earth with others.
1. Recognize your strengths and limitations
Understanding what you’re good at and what you’re not is the first step to developing humility. This always involves an honest and accurate understanding of your strengths and limitations.
Start this process by conducting an honest assessment of your strengths and limitations. Self-reflection is one way to recognize your strengths and limitations, but it’s also a good idea to get a more objective viewpoint. Consider taking a strengths assessment, reviewing past successes and failures, or considering the input from other people.
2. Listen more than you talk
Humble people know not to make every conversation about themselves, which is why becoming a better listener is an important step to cultivate humility. Showing humility involves listening a lot more than you talk, as well as not always talking about yourself.
Becoming a better listener takes practice. You can begin by pausing, asking more questions, and showing genuine interest in other people. These strategies help you shift away from a self-focus to an other-focus, which is one of the key characteristics of humility.
2. Seek and accept both good and bad feedback
Honest feedback from others can help you become more self-aware, and even getting negative feedback provides a chance to practice being humble. Asking for feedback from people you trust to tell you the truth helps to maintain an accurate understanding of what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on.
When you receive critical or negative feedback, resist the urge to become defensive. For example, don’t argue, give excuses, or attack the other person. Instead, thank them for their honesty and, when necessary, offer a sincere apology. Also, try to use their input to self-reflect on things you can do differently to improve.
3. Keep your mind open to new ideas
An arrogant person believes they’re always right or already know the answer to every question, but someone who’s humble keeps an open mind. To foster humility, be willing to hear out ideas, beliefs, and opinions that differ from your own, and avoid passing judgment on them. Listen with an open and curious mind. Try to understand what is being said instead of focusing on being right.
When you get new information, use it to revisit your existing beliefs and opinions. Being open-minded and curious is a great way to approach conversations with people who hold different views. It can also help expand your knowledge and strengthen your beliefs by exposing them to new ideas, questions, and views.
4. Own your mistakes and offer sincere apologies
An important part of being humble is being able to admit to yourself and others when you’re wrong or when you’ve made a mistake. Being accountable for your words and actions shows integrity and will earn you the trust and respect of others. Being able to say when you messed up goes a long way towards recovering from a mistake.
Adding a sincere apology is the next key component to being humble. An apology is needed when you’ve made a mistake or one something to offend or hurt someone else. Avoid including excuses, explanations, or an “I’m sorry but…” because your apology may come across as insincere and ineffective.
5. Reveal your faults when appropriate
A humble person doesn’t feel the need to always try to mask or hide their flaws and faults from others. Being humble means being able to let some of your imperfections show and sometimes even openly admitting or talking about them. No one is good at everything, so revealing your own shortcomings can even lessen the pressure others feel to strive for perfection.
Avoid self-deprecating statements like, “I really suck at …” or “I’m terrible at…” because these can make others feel pressured to praise or console you. Instead, try saying something like, “I really struggle with…” or, “This isn’t my area of expertise.” These are more effective ways to reveal shortcomings that don’t make others feel uncomfortable.
6. Help others shine and celebrate their successes
Humility can involve highlighting and celebrating the talents, strengths, and achievements of other people. People who appear arrogant may be quick to minimize the successes of other people or highlight their own, often because they’re insecure.
Humble and confident people don’t have these same insecurities, which allows them to be truly happy for others when they succeed, instead of feeling threatened by them. Helping others shine by giving shoutouts to people at work, commenting on their strengths, or organizing a celebration for someone are all great ways to foster relationships and humility at the same time.
7. Let your talents speak for themselves
Humble people don’t feel the need to brag about the things they’re good at or what they’ve been able to achieve. In fact, they may rarely mention themselves or their achievements in conversation because they know their hard work will speak for itself.
Break the bad habit of bragging by not talking about yourself or what you’ve accomplished as much. You can still feel proud of your accomplishments, but broadcasting your pride can be a major turn-off, leaving a bad impression on others.
8. Show appreciation for others
Showing appreciation and giving thanks to others is one of the best ways to show humility because it puts a positive focus on others. Humble people tend to be better at showing appreciation for others, which may explain why they tend to have closer, stronger relationships with others.
Showing appreciation for people can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or “I really appreciated that you…” to a person who has helped you out or worked hard. If you’re a leader at work, giving shoutouts or bonuses to employees who have gone above and beyond are great ways to show appreciation.
9. Admit what you don’t know
Humble people are able to admit the things they don’t know instead of pretending to be the expert on everything. Admitting the limits of your knowledge and expertise is an important way to stay humble at work and also ensures you’re assigned projects that are a good match for your skills.
Admitting what you don’t know can also help you in relationships with friends, family, and significant others as well. For example, saying that you have “no idea how that must have felt” or “can’t imagine what that was like” to a loved one is a great way to support someone who opens up to you. For them, this response feels much more supportive than assuming you know how they feel.
Examples of being humble
Having examples of being humble can make it easier for people to know ways to show humility. It’s important for people to understand that you can still be confident and assertive while also being humble. In fact, the right displays of humility can help you demonstrate confidence without being rude, cocky, or arrogant.
Here are some examples of showing humility:
Example 1: Humble ways to respond to criticism
Getting negative feedback can be difficult and uncomfortable, and it’s hard for people not to get defensive. This is especially true if you’re a person who takes a lot of pride in your work and tries really hard to do things well. Still, being humble is the best way to respond to negative or critical feedback. Here are some examples of humble ways to respond to negative feedback at a job:
- Validate their concerns: One way to humbly accept criticism is to say something like, “I completely understand your concerns” or, “I totally get how it could have come across that way” to prove you hear and understand their concerns.
- Offer a sincere apology: It’s sometimes necessary to offer an apology, especially if you made a mistake, offended someone, or overlooked something important. When this has happened, try saying something like, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t consider that,” “I feel terribly about how this affected you,” or just, “I messed up, and I’m really sorry,”
- Commit to improvement: Another way to accept critical feedback humbly is to say something like, “I appreciate this feedback and will use it to do better” or “I really want to make things right and would appreciate any advice you have on how to start.” These are ways to show that you not only accept their feedback but will also use it to make changes and improvements.
Example 2: Humble ways to respond to praise
One of the hardest times to be humble is when you’re getting praised or recognized for your achievements or hard work. While it’s important to acknowledge your achievements and appreciate the recognition you receive for them, it’s also important to be humble in these moments. Here are some examples of ways to be humble when getting praised or recognized:
- Share the spotlight: Share some of the credit and praise with others by saying something like, “This would not have been possible without your help” or, “You’ve been a huge support to me and are a big part of the reason I was able to pull this off.”
- Express genuine Gratitude: Gratitude is a great way to show humility. Consider saying something like: “Thank you all so much for this,” or “It means so much that you have all come today to celebrate with me.”
- Downplay excessive praise: When you’re getting high praises, one way to be humble is to downplay the praise by saying something like, “You’re too kind” or, “My contribution to this was minimal compared to others’, but thank you.”
Example 3: Humble ways to talk about your strengths
There are definitely times when it is appropriate and even expected to talk about yourself and highlight your strengths. For example, interviewing for a job or promotion will require some self-promotion on your part. In these situations, there are ways to talk about your strengths without coming off as arrogant. Here are ways to humbly highlight your strengths:
- Reference real-life feedback from others: “I’ve received a lot of feedback from my colleagues that I am a good leader, and people often seek me out for support and advice.”
- Tell the backstory of the strength: “I’ve invested a lot of my personal time and energy into expanding my knowledge of this topic, and because of this, I feel really confident that I could bring a lot to the table.”
- Tie your strengths to your core values: “I’m always striving to learn and improve as a boss and leader, and one of the areas I’ve focused the most on is on cultivating the talents and skills of those on my team. I think I’ve gotten really good at recognizing people’s talents and helping them further develop them.”
Example 4: Humble ways to interact online
It can be hard to talk to people online, especially when you’re using apps or social media to make an impression, find friends or connect with people. Too often, people feel pressured to create an online version of themselves that’s perfectly crafted, sometimes even becoming unrecognizable to their real-life self. Humility is the key to avoiding these perfection traps and presenting an accurate, relatable, and humble version of yourself online.
Here are some keys on how to be humble online and on social media and dating or friend apps:
- Use pictures that look like you: Avoid the annoying habit of constantly posting selfies or of using filters that always make you look “picture perfect.” Settle on a profile pic that actually looks like you.
- Don’t use social media to prove you’re a good person: Don’t overuse “virtue signals” online to make others think you’re a good person (e.g., broadcasting your good deeds to your followers) and avoid comparing or competing with others online.
- Present a realistic version of yourself online: Provide an honest and balanced view of yourself and the parts of your life you choose to share on apps and social media sites (e.g., don’t just list your amazing qualities or exaggerate to look good, and do include some of your shortcomings or struggles).
- Don’t use it for the likes and follows: Use social media and dating and friend apps for their intended purpose. Use them to relate and connect with others, instead of relying on them to feel good about yourself, get attention, or boost your mood.
Example 5: Humble ways to make a good first impression
When you’re on a first date, a job interview, or hanging out for the first time with someone, it’s normal to want to make a good impression. This may cause you to boast, brag, or try too hard to form a good impression or get someone to like you. The problem is that these approaches normally backfire. Being more humble is actually the secret to attracting friends and being more likable.
Here are some ways to use humility to make a good first impression:
- Focus more on being kind than being cool: Being observant and considerate of others is more likely to leave a good impression than focusing on seeming cool. For example, if you’re on a first date and someone looks cold, offer them your jacket or ask if they want to move indoors.
- Get them talking more about themselves: Showing interest in others is the key to making a good impression without making the conversation about yourself. Ask questions, show interest, and figure out what topics they enjoy discussing. Wait to talk about yourself until they ask you questions or invite you to share something about yourself.
- Talk more about who you are and less about what you have or do: One common mistake that people make when they’re trying to make a good impression is to talk too much about what they do or have. For example, talking all about your job, your five cars, or your many degrees can come off as bragging. Also, it doesn’t tell the person much about who you are. To avoid this, focus conversations more on the things you’re interested in or care about and less on things you do or have.
Why is being humble important?
Humility matters because it is a positive characteristic that people seek out in leaders, friends, and significant others. A humble attitude can help you get ahead in all areas of life. It also makes it easier to build close relationships with people. Some of the proven benefits of being more humble include:
- Ups your appeal and helps you attract friends and romantic partners
- Can help you become more approachable and less intimidating to others
- Helps you stand out as a capable leader at work or in your career
- Can motivate you to work towards personal growth and self-improvement
- It can make people less defensive and more likely to open up
- Can make it easier to forgive other people after conflicts or disagreements
- Promotes better physical and emotional wellbeing and health
- Protects relationships and helps to maintain a strong support network
A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be humble and confuse it with being insecure. In reality, true humility involves being sure about who you are, confident about what you do well, and being OK with your shortcomings. A humble attitude is proven to help you get ahead at work, in life, and in relationships, so becoming more humble is worth the effort.