Interpersonal Edge: Arrogance is the enemy of brilliance

Dr. Daneen Skube

By Dr. Daneen Skube Tribune Content Agency

Q: I work with several men that are always the smartest guy in the room. When we’re problem solving it’s impossible to get them to collaborate. These guys actually are smart but they seem emotionally stupid. How can I get them to realize that arrogance makes problem solving impossible?

A: You’ll get your arrogant co-workers to see arrogance makes problem solving impossible if you shore up their fragile egos. People that seem arrogant may be smart intellectually but they see admitting they don’t know anything as a sign of weakness.

When we study high intelligence in children we notice most bright kids are one-trial learners. They see a new skill once and master it. The trouble is many problems in life demand much more than one trial to figure out solutions.

People that have an inability to be vulnerable or ask for help tend to appear arrogant.

Arrogance covers up the reality that none of us are always the smartest guy in the room. Even if we excel in one area there are people in every room that know more than us about something.

Industrial psychology studies tell us the best corporate environments foster “learning organizations.” A learning organization is where employees are encouraged to make mistakes, expand skill sets, and are recep-tive to lifelong learning. Humility fosters a learning organization and arrogance makes this culture impossible.

Ironically as Americans we’re often taught that appearing to have all the answers will make others look up to us. The truth is arrogance may appear to be self-confidence from far away. However, close up arrogant people fall apart especially when they face complex problems.

When dealing with arro-gant co-workers praise their intelligence, skills, and competency and ask for their help in thinking together about issues.

You may think it would be emotionally satisfying to tell your co-workers that they’re wrong. However, if you threaten their ego you’ll make your situation worse. If you threaten arrogant people they’ll dig in and the casualty will be your results. I know it may seem wrong to praise them but this makes them feel safe and they’ll be more cooperative.

If you want to study an excellent example of emotional intelligence when facing arrogance you can review Dr. Anthony Fauci’s response during the pan-demic. Fauci refused to engage in power struggles and continued to work on finding solutions.

I tell my clients that we should look for humble people to be our teachers. Humility means we know how much we don’t know, we’re good at asking for help, and we real-ize we need other people to thrive. Humility means we make few bold declarative statements. We ask questions and listen more than we speak.

I also counsel clients that learning from other people’s experience (OPE) is one our greatest sources of wisdom and effectiveness. The other alternative is to learn from the school of hard knocks which always has expensive tuition.

Realize also that you want to avoid an ego war with arrogant people. What they have no defense against is humility. If you let them know you need their help they can be quite useful.

Also realize to the extent you feel threatened by arrogant people you’re not fighting with them. You’re fighting an inner battle wondering whether you are good enough. If you can walk away from this inner battle you’ll have more freedom and peace in handling arrogance in others.

The more you focus on your results and effectiveness the less you will get engaged in the ego war of arrogant people. Let them be the smartest person in the room and let yourself be the one that gets brilliant results.

The last word(s)

Q : I have a co-worker that keeps making the same mistake and saying she is sorry. I feel like I should accept her apology but is there a way to know whether she will actually change?

A: Yes, ask for a specific behavioral plan rather than an apology. People cannot do better until they plan better.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006).