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I recently started reading The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb’s writing style and philosophy are engaging and it’s easy to see why his book was met with so many positive reviews.

Though, after only 25 pages in I sensed an arrogance that became hard to write off as my own misinterpretation. So I googled “nassim taleb ar” at which point Google pre-populated “Nassim Taleb arrogant” (before “nassim taleb articles”). I have never met Taleb, and a Google search, regardless of the opinion of your next employer, can be a poor way to make a character judgment. A number of articles later, it seemed I was not alone in my opinion, but this is not the point. Regardless of one’s opinion, that Taleb is or is not arrogant, he’s a respected (I’ll say) thinker (because Taleb disdains most academics). People, of distinguished academic credentials and the general public, bother to hear what he has to say, I would argue, in part, because of the certainty with which he says it.

This reminds of an article I read which reviewed a study of perceptions of woman managers. Woman, the article said, because they were more likely to seek an opinion outside of their own before acting (a recent Atlantic article reviewed women’s preference to work in teams), were perceived as insecure. Men were more likely to assume their opinion needed no further debating before acting. If you act like you know what you’re doing, people are more likely to think you know what you’re doing. This shortcoming of human nature, quickly believing as true what we observe is unfortunate, but the reality. And to not account for it would be to exhibit another shortcoming of human nature, the belief that the laws of human nature apply to everyone but us. Do not count on being given the benefit of the doubt. Displaying uncertainty will be perceived as uncertainty.

Should you therefore display so much certainty that your name followed by “ar” pre-populates in Google as “arrogant”? No. But there is a middle ground between arrogance and uncertainty to the degree it’s interpreted as insecurity. When you’re observing others, assessing who does and doesn’t have power (yes, even you who thinks you do not judge do this), don’t forget to observe yourself. Present how you want to be perceived.