Is your workplace humble or arrogant?

Is your workplace humble or arrogant?

Do you work with someone with an inflated ego? A friend told me recently how her barrister friend was preening over a recent victory. She told told him that he is conceited. He replied: “Really? People have told me I’m arrogant, not conceited.”

She went straight back to the dictionary; her hairsplitting friend was correct. “Conceit” is when you’ve overestimated your talents and skills. Arrogance is marked by a feeling or assumption of superiority over others – similar but not identical descriptions. Conceit may be misplaced; arrogance evolves from a certain success rate that sadly, some people don’t take with a pinch of modest salt. 

We certainly recognise it when someone is behaving arrogantly. What can we do about an arrogance surfeit? Start by recognising how you behave and react, what you’re doing, and consider how others are reacting to you. You’ll secretly know it, anyway. 

Take opportunities to reflect on your actions. Maybe it’s you? Ask yourself whether you couldn’t step off that pedestal once in a while. Not because people are disparagingly clamouring for you to get down, but because it’s time you did and saw things in a truer light. Allowing an arrogant employee to continually get away with it is slowly poisoning the office lily pond. You can’t afford this behaviour.

Arrogance’s flipside is humility. The latter is perceived as more desirable behaviour – and certainly is warranted in most circumstances. It lowers the office thermostat and keeps things humming along and achievable. Humility is patient and, at its best, looks at the world from a refreshingly wry perspective. 

An arrogant person usually feels they have little room for growth, that they have reached a high level or knowledge and understanding. The humble person always sees the room to grow and develop. Arrogant people often make jokes at the expense of others, while the humble person is acutely aware and sensitive to other people’s feelings. Arrogance comes with a sense of entitlement, sometimes even greed; while humility with gratitude and generosity. Arrogant people are quick to display their knowledge and success, while humble people want to know more about others, to find out about THEIR success.

Often arrogance creeps in over a period of time. Perhaps it is an extension of over-confidence; where once the behaviours were tolerated and acceptable, but now have become annoying or intolerable, but no one says anything. The person gets no feedback, or worse, they ignore those first few brave opinions.

Fake humility is never going to cut it; people detect this a mile off. Be sure that humility doesn’t camouflage manipulation of a situation. Some world cultures make a virtue of humility – which we could do with more of, in this increasingly self-absorbed culture of ours – but conversely (and depending on the context), a little assertiveness on the part of such people would likewise clear the air of any passive aggression that’s built up.

So, where on the scales do you stand? If the scales are heavily tipped in one or the other direction, seek input from people whose opinion and honesty you recognise, and start evening things up. You’ll relish the difference.

Ask and discuss in a non-accusing or defensive tone:

  • Do you think I am arrogant? In what ways? When?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • How did it make you feel?

 Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runsSeven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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