Arrogance at Work – How Should You Handle It?

by Jennifer Miller on July 9, 2012

in Personal Effectiveness

Statue of Duke Wellington on horseIs it ever OK to tolerate arrogance in the workplace?

This is the central question that became apparent to me after I wrote a post about how to find empathy for the office jerk.  After reading the excellent comments from People Equation readers, I realized that a distinction was in order: the answer depends on what role you play in your organization.


If you are in a leadership position, you must not tolerate arrogant behavior, even if the employee is “brilliant”.

If you are in an individual contributor role (and you have no leverage with this person), you will need to use considerable interpersonal skills to “deal with” an arrogant co-worker.  In this case, one of the tactics may be to try to find some empathy with this person, as I suggested.  Other tactics, as listed in the comments section of my recent blog post include:

  • View your situation as temporary – dig in, find common ground, get the project done.
  • Try and empathize…do everything possible to build a bridge.  About the third time that you are stepped on in return, then ethically, fairly and visibly crush this person in the workplace. (Jen’s note: this one has a snarky side to it, but I couldn’t resist including it!)
  • Work the internal political system to ensure that “difficult” people aren’t assigned to your projects
  • Leverage peer pressure – enlist other trusted colleagues to help “shut out” the offending person. It’s possible the arrogant person may get the hint. . .or at least do minimal damage until they are assigned elsewhere (as in, “out the door”.)

Another suggestion for individual contributors: an alternative to “just dealing with it” is to draw a line in the sand – create a boundary that says “I choose not to tolerate this situation.”  Even though arrogant people view themselves as superior to others, I’ve found that sometimes being blunt and saying, “That’s not an acceptable way to speak to me” brings them up short. Who knows, they may revise their opinion and see you as “worth” their time. (You are worth their time of course, but this viewpoint comes from The Arrogant One, perched high up on his superior horse, which is, obviously better than your horse.)


Question for you: how do you handle arrogance in the workplace? 
Photo credit:

Copenhagen in Edinburgh (Stanley Howe) / CC BY-SA 2.0

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Prasad Reddy July 9, 2012 at 9:12 am

Excellent, Jennifer.

I am sure this will serve as a guideline for people who have to deal with jerks @ work.


Jennifer Miller July 9, 2012 at 10:31 am

And thanks to you, Prasad – your insights helped me clarify this distinction!

Tina August 17, 2012 at 8:42 am

Hi Jennifer,

I’m not sure I agree with your advice. I rarely post to blogs, but I was so struck by the tone of your post. What if the arrogant “offender” is your boss? What if the perception of arrogance is merely a disguise of prejudice, as in the peers encouraged to “Shut out” the offender are of one race or age group, and don’t have the cultural competence to deal with other cultures or social demographics. “Shutting someone out” seems amazingly harsh and intolerant.

I’m just taken aback by your ideas. How do you build bridges or trust using these types of tactics?

Jennifer Miller August 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Hi, Tina,

Thanks for comments. Here are my thoughts in response to your questions:

This post is written from the viewpoint of peer-to-peer interactions – someone trying to deal with an arrogant peer. So, the suggestions probably don’t make a lot of sense for employee-to-team leader interactions.

As for the cultural or racial implications, that’s an interesting perspective. That’s a context I had not considered when writing this blog post. I was focusing on behaviors of individuals, rather than their cultural or racial background.

I was defining “arrogant” behavior as a peer who displays behavior that is “disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner” (Merriam-Webster). In the case of “shutting someone out”, my take is this: in a group project, if the arrogant person has been approached with empathy (as my link “how to find empathy for the office jerk” advocates) and the person persists in behaving with an attitude of superiority, then it may be time to employ other methods.

My experience has been that when dealing with someone who is truly arrogant, they aren’t especially willing to listen to others’ opinions, because from their perspective, *they* know best. While it’s rare that I’d advocate “shutting out” someone, there are times when peer pressure can help make a point in a way that a direct confrontation cannot.

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