There's a delicate balance in the workplace when it comes to teachability and confidence.

On the one hand, it's important to be a lifelong learner. I've "learned" this so many times--it's becoming a bit ironic. It's possible the more we assume we don't have anything left to learn the more we put up a wall and sit in isolation, not realizing we're stuck in a big puddle of mud. It's only when someone reaches out a hand and says "maybe you should try this?" that we start growing again, that we start moving.

Of course, it's also a challenge being unoffendable. When correction comes like a swift kick in the gut, we sometimes pull away and start arguing. I learned that years ago! How dare you suggest I'm not able to grasp this marketing concept or this social media strategy! Didn't you notice my incredible education level? There's a reason I display those plaques on the wall: It's to make sure no one tries to teach me anything.

Yet, being teachable and unoffendable almost always cancel each other out. I like this definition of humility: It's an ability to recognize your talents and gifts accurately and then willingly stoop to a lower level and become curious, open, and willing to accept instruction without clinging to your pride. You can't really learn until you become humble. You can't receive new knowledge unless you willingly open the door to it.

Yet, there's a whole extra layer of complexity here.

Since it's so important to be unoffendable (mostly because this helps you learn and avoids conflict with others), things can get really tricky. You might be able to accept what I've already mentioned about being open and humble. Teachability makes you a curious person. Humility is recognizing where you have talents and yet still allowing yourself to become a pupil again. But how do you avoid being offended?

I believe this is where true self-confidence plays a big role. It's important to ask yourself why you are offended. Is it because you doubt your abilities? Is it because pride is making up the difference between what you actually know and what you want people to believe you know? A better strategy is to allow some of this complexity to exist in the workplace, to accept that you can be equally confident, humble, teachable and unoffendable.

Here's an example of how this might work. Let's say you are incredibly gifted as a marketer. Maybe it's in public relations or social media. It's your job to know these things. You're paid to be the smart one in the office. You have a stellar education and years of experience. Now someone comes along and wants to teach you something. What in the world? How is that possible? Is there anything left for you to learn?

One reaction is to put up a wall. Unteachable people are more interested in being right, sharing what they know, and relying on past accomplishments. They can't accept anything new. Another reaction is to tear the wall down. Teachable people recognize that there is still a lot to learn in life and on the job. They see new knowledge as another tool in the tool shed. The difference? It's all about your confidence level.

I'll get really personal here. I've been working as a professional writer for 16 years. Before that I led teams of writers at two different companies. I have a high confidence in my ability. Because of that, I'm also teachable. I don't have to rely on past accomplishments. I don't have to pretend that I'm knowledgeable anymore. If there's something to learn about writing, I'm all ears, not because I'm prideful and doubt there's anything left to learn, but because my confidence level is high enough to accept the instruction.

At a high confidence level, you become a willing sponge for new information. Think of the successful entrepreneur. This is someone who has built up quite a company! Now, a colleague suggests a new idea on how to take the company even further. That past history of success would suggest that this is an entrepreneur that knows her stuff. Yet, the successful among us attained that level due to their teachability. They don't ever stop learning. They don't ever stop being open. You can't offend them, because they've already achieved so much. What can you possibly say to a highly successful person that would crush them in defeat? There is only new information, new data, new possibilities. Confident people accept those ideas and turn them into even more success.

But what about you? Where do you fit in this continuum of humility, pride, teachability, and confidence? Have you struck a balance between each of them?

My suggestion is to do some soul searching. Have you put up a wall? Are you ready to tear it down? Can other people teach you anything? What can you do to become more open-minded about new ideas and new concepts? If you really want to change, if you want to stoop low to learn more, it takes a big step in confidence. You can do it.

Published on: Mar 22, 2017
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