What does it mean to be humble?
Is it just about not taking too much credit and thinking of yourself in a realistic way?
I want to go deeper on this and look at the top signs of a humble person and why it matters.
1) You admit when you’re wrong
It takes a humble person to admit when they’re wrong.
Far too many of us take this kind of thing personally or as a sign of “weakness” or “losing.”
But admitting you were wrong is just that: nothing more, nothing less.
As a humble person it sometimes comes down to this:
You were incorrect. That’s it. Fine.
We all are from time to time.
And a humble person isn’t afraid to say so, because their ego is not invested in being right or being infallible.
They’re very aware of their limits and willing to recognize when they were simply mistaken or incorrect about something they did, said or believed in the past.
Why it matters: if you can’t admit you’re wrong, you end up in many unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings that waste everyone’s time and energy.
2) You don’t seek the spotlight
The next of the signs of a humble person is that you don’t seek the spotlight.
If recognition comes your way, you’ll acknowledge it, but you’re likely to use any platform or fame you get to help advance causes you believe in or highlight the role of others in helping you.
It’s not that you don’t value yourself, because you hopefully do.
It’s simply that the kind of outer recognition and accolades that many of us crave don’t mean that much to you.
You’re much more about the mission.
If you want to help increase literacy in the inner city slums of Bogota, you’re focused on that. No amount of UN awards or TV segments on you really matters half as much to you as your actual goal of getting literacy up.
As such, any publicity and fame you do get generally gets rechanneled back into the cause.
Why it matters: when the spotlight is the focus, the mission often takes the backseat and leads to failure and frustration as well as petty infighting.
3) You actively support others
The next of the key signs of a humble person is actively supporting others.
This is a key part of being a humble person, because it puts the mission above the individual.
Supporting those around you and helping them succeed is the hallmark of somebody who’s gotten their ego out of the way of their goals.
When you actively support others in achieving their goals, you’re also helping yourself.
The process of aiding someone teaches so much and is a growing and learning journey.
That’s part of the crucible of greatness of a humble person is that they gain so much from giving so much, even though they may look quite mild-mannered or selfless to an outside observer.
Why it matters: having group-minded people who want to actively support others is a big boon to society and everyone’s well-being and success.
4) You hate humblebragging
One of the big signs of a fake humble person is humble bragging.
This is when you say something humble in order to disguise bragging.
As such, the sign of a truly humble person is somebody who does not humblebrag and dislikes it strongly.
Examples of humblebragging vary depending on context.
A typical example would be:
“I hate how the cops are always pulling me over just because I have a Lamborghini. Having a Lambo isn’t a crime, and it doesn’t mean I speed. I’m just a regular guy.”
Why it matters: humblebragging is a cultural appropriation of truly humble people. It’s also very cringe and makes the world a worse place.
5) You make your intentions clear
The next of the signs of a humble person is being clear about your intentions.
Arrogant people can often be manipulative or hide an ulterior agenda.
Humble people are only truly humble if they admit any bias or agenda.
When you’re humble, this includes putting your cards on the table.
If you have a vested interest in something you’ll just admit it instead of worming around or parsing words and manipulating people.
You’re humble about what you want and why, because you don’t want to cheat anyone.
Say, for example, you’re a shoe salesman and recommending an expensive pair of Skechers to a customer:
“Yes, these are better. Of course I also do get a 3% commission, so their higher price is in my interest, too.”
Likely the customer will laugh and probably buy them anyway. But you were honest and didn’t try to mask your own self-interest in the interaction.
Why it matters: being forthright about your vested interest in a situation is refreshing honesty and is often met by more appreciation than you would expect.
6) You speak less and listen more
Another of the key signs of a humble person is being an active listener.
Humble people try to really listen to what somebody is saying and read between the lines.
If you’re a humble person, you prefer to hear what someone really means before you try to answer.
You may also ask for elaboration or ask further questions when you don’t really understand why somebody is saying something or what it means.
This is often far more valuable than just retorting, as it clarifies what is being said first instead of just saying something for the sake of it.
This is humble because allowing somebody else’s voice to be heard is a way to give space to others and let people have their say without always having to be heard yourself.
Why it matters: Listening is really undervalued. You not only learn an enormous amount, but you end up giving other people far more space to reveal their true intentions and purpose in talking to you.
7) You under-promise and over-deliver
Humble folks under-promise and over-deliver.
It’s not that they don’t believe in their ability to see a promise through.
It’s that they aren’t trying to win friends and influence people by making big promises.
They’re aware that many things can and do go off track, but they also know that everybody cares more about a promise fulfilled than a promise made.
I can promise you I will deliver you a new laptop computer to your front door tomorrow, but you’ll be much more interested in the actual arrival of that laptop than me talking about it.
This is why humble people prefer to let actions do the talking for them.
Why it matters: There are many people who talk a big game but don’t deliver. Being humble about the promises you make ensures that you get to deliver plenty of pleasant surprises and consistently exceed expectations, which is a big plus in your personal and professional life.
8) You compromise when possible
Next up in the signs of a humble person is being willing to compromise.
Compromise may be necessary in many situations, but when you’re too full of yourself it can feel like torture.
- Why should you agree to some neutral middle ground when arguing about where to move with your partner?
- Why compromise on what you could get in a business deal when you could just play hardball and keep pushing until you either implode negotiations or get what you want?
Compromise can be hard, especially if you’re a person who interprets it as “losing.”
But being humble enough to compromise can yield immense benefits and advancement in your personal life and career.
Why it matters: Compromise is crucial to building healthy relationships in your personal and professional life.
9) You don’t try to be seen as humble
Last up in terms of the important signs of a humble person is that you don’t try to be humble.
If you are humble, great.
If not, you may try to improve a bit but you don’t fake it and pretend to be some Gandhi figure.
You do your best to behave in a humble way and perform humble actions, sure, but not because you “should” and not because you want to be seen as humble or get recognition for it.
Trying to be seen as humble is deeply inauthentic and makes real humility more of a status symbol than an actual character trait.
Why it matters: trying to be humble defeats the whole purpose. Humility isn’t an accessory like a new Jimmy Choo handbag, it’s a personality trait. You can work on being more humble, but actively performing at being humble is very cringe and inauthentic.
Are you humble about being humble?
There’s an irony about humility that is clear in some spiritual teachers and inspirational speakers.
They’re proud of being humble.
I realize that sounds like a contradiction, and it absolutely is a contradiction.
The fact is that there’s just no point in being humble if you’re doing so in order to gain recognition, praise or appreciation for being humble.
Being humble is its own reward and is the marker of a person who’s self-actualized in a certain way that doesn’t crave outer applause and recognition.
Not everyone is humble, and that’s OK.
As the boxer Muhammad Ali said:
“I am the greatest.
I said that even before I knew I was.
I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.”
There’s a place for bravado and ego!
But even the most egotistical among us can learn a lot from the humble.
And if you find that you match many of the traits, just remember to also stay humble about being humble.