Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How to Use Arrogance to Your Advantage

Nail It! A weekly note from Ted.
Read Time: 4 minutes

Arrogance Protected Me — and Cut Me Off from Others

Sometimes it starts with an eye roll.

“How could they be so stupid?” I use that one a lot. It’s a personal favorite.

Or how about, “Will I have to dumb down my work to win this business?”

In this time of change and deepening divides, understanding and accepting others as they are is vital to our success.

Arrogance is used to cover the fear that we’re not really worthy. That we don’t measure up. Arrogance is fear turned upside down. Fear masquerading as superiority.

Arrogance is a self-protective state that blocks our ability to understand and help others. Internally recognizing the rise of arrogance as a “note to self” that you are actually fearful gives you the opportunity to become more perceptive of yourself and others.

In this time of change and deepening divides, understanding and accepting others as they are is vital to our success, individually and as a culture. Lack of awareness about how easily we slip into the belief that we’re superior blocks us from opportunities for personal advancement or just plain connection with others.

Spotting Arrogance

I attempt to resist this dangerous, relationship-destroying behavior by:

  • Catching myself in the act;
  • Identifying what triggered my reaction; and,
  • Searching for my underlying vulnerability.

In effect, I’m trying to reverse roles with the object of my arrogance and learn something important about myself.

My tendency to fall into a judgmental state of superiority started early in my life as a way to protect myself from the fear of being an outsider.

I was fostered at birth, adopted, then fostered again. I’ve been rejected, arrested, and spent my life yearning to be part of the group, fearing that I don’t measure up. I’ve used arrogance to shield myself from my fear of rejection. Only slowly have I learned to use this tendency to understand what I fear and why. After a long career as a creative professional, now working as a business coach to creatives, I see myself and my clients alternately falling into and out of arrogance as we deal with difficult interpersonal situations.

Catch Yourself in the Act

I’m sitting across the table from a guy with a PhD and it just became clear I know some obscure fact that he does not know. “I can’t believe how stupid he is!” I exult to myself, and a great feeling of relief comes over me.

Identify the Old Fear

But along with that relief comes the realization that I’ve stumbled upon a fundamental truth about myself. I just switched from feeling inferior to superior. It’s my old lack of education surfacing. That old feeling of not fitting in, not measuring up.

What Lies Beneath

Now that I’ve cognitively captured my emotional reality, I can turn it over, examine it, think about what it means. I know that this is a repeating behavior of mine. It’s not rational. It’s automatic, instantaneous, and emotional.

I’ve used arrogance to shield myself from my fear of rejection.

Note to self: “I’m neither inferior nor superior to him; I’m a person with my own strengths and weaknesses. So is he. His accomplishments are balanced by his fundamental humanity. Do I really want or need a PhD? No. Can I help him? Can he help me? Maybe.”

I know that this automatic reaction will not go away with one just one self-correction. In fact, I’ve had the how-could-he-be-so stupid/lack-of-education arrogant reaction many times. And I’ve probably only pulled myself up short a few of those times. But at least those times I’ve managed to save myself the wave of shame that comes when others catch me in the act.

That little self-exercise, which plays out in nanoseconds, reduces my anxiety. It also gives me a chance to learn about myself and the other person in a way that offers the possibility of a future relationship that’s not weighed down by my old fears.

A version of this article was first published at Fast Company.

drawing of a man in profile as he works at a drafting table

To the Point

A short list of people who are nailing it right now.

Studio Output – creatives behind Rize Up, a UK voter registration campaign.

Eileen Matthews – Copywriter’s #100daysoffeministads campaign gives a feminist re-write to popular print ads (h/t to Women You Should Know).

Jenara Nerenberg – Neurodivergent writer and activist breaks down how and why companies should embrace workers with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and other traits.

This list from Book Riot –  “Books to Read about Women and Work When Your Father Isn’t a Billionaire.”

What’s Your Story?

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. Feel free to comment below or email me directly. And if you have a story to share about how you nailed it, please send it my way — if we use it in the weekly mail, you’ll receive a free one-hour coaching session with me.



Join the conversation, leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *