Arrogance and the Workplace

We all know that we don’t like arrogant people, especially those we have to work with.  Until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of solid research on arrogance in the workplace.  A recent study on workplace arrogance (Johnson, et. al., 2010) suggests that higher levels of workplace arrogance are related to lower levels of self- and other-rated performance.  Higher levels of arrogance are also related to lower levels of intelligence and self-esteem.

The concept of arrogance is related to narcissism, as they both include an individual’s “exaggerated sense of superiority” (p. 405).  Narcissism is a broader concept, including the individual’s assessment of physical self (i.e. I like to look at myself in the mirror, or I’m hotter than others).  Arrogance “encompasses actions and language that exaggerate one’s own importance while also disparaging others.” (p. 406)    Recent studies (See Jean Twenge’s book, The Narcissism Epidemic), suggest that narcissism is on the rise in North American society.

So why should we worry about arrogance?  There are many reasons, but two are particularly significant.  First, arrogance makes collaboration and  group work difficult.  Today’s business world requires that we play together well, and we don’t, in part due to our individual arrogance.

Second, if we are arrogant, exaggerating our own abilities and importance, then it would seem to me that arrogance would make an individual less open to learning.  In order to learn, we need to be able to accept that we don’t know something, and we also need to be able to accept feedback and constructive criticism.  Research suggests that arrogant people are more sensitive to criticism, often rejecting feedback, limiting their ability to learn. 

 We need to be confident to be effective leaders.  However, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance:

Someone who is confident knows who they are, and their ideas about themselves are built on information that is authentic or reality driven. Those who are arrogant are likely to take this confidence to a different level, as they overestimate who they are and what they can do, along with acting in ways that make those around them feel inferior. (p. 406)

Arrogance in the workplace has a number of negative consequences, ranging from lower performance to bullying behaviour.  Do you have a workplace culture that breeds arrogance or confidence?  Which one are you?

Source: Johnson, Russell E., et al, “Acting Superior but Actually Inferior?: Correlates and Consequences of Workplace Arrogance” Human Performance, 23:5, 403 — 427. 

5 replies »

  1. Military, police, firefighters medical, examples of rigidly hierarchical organizations, naturally lend themselves to facilitating arrogant individuals. It takes a very confident junior for instance to advise an arrogant/bullying supervisor that his behavior/treatment of individuals is unacceptable. This, particularly when the supervisor has a direct impact on career advancement and/or future employment. The supervisor writes the annual performance assessment, the primary tool for determining advancement in organization. There are usually checks and balances in the appraisal system, but in general terms there is a tendency, particularly the more transparent the hierarchical nature of the organization, for these to be used in favour of the superior member in the organization.

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