You may suspect that the arrogant, hyper-critical jerk guy in the office next to you is overcompensating for a lack of something, but what? Turns out it’s not a lack of basic human decency, but instead it’s most likely a self-esteem deficit.
According to research cited on the I/O at Work site (I/O = Industrial / Organizational Psychology), there’s a correlation between arrogant behavior and a person’s perception of worth.
You probably don’t really care if this person has low self-esteem, right?
You might want to start. Beyond the warm-and-fuzzy angle there’s an implication for workplace performance. Researchers cited in an article called Waging WARS on Workplace Arrogance, report that
While arrogant employees engage in behaviors that exude superiority, they actually appear to be less intelligent and receive lower performance ratings than employees who are less arrogant.
So if you are a managing this person’s work, or you must in some way gain this person’s support, guess what? You’re on the hook for figuring out a way to deal with it. Because this person’s attitude can ruin customer interactions, decrease workplace productivity and just plain get on everyone’s last nerve.
Yes, Really, There IS a Human Wrapped Inside that Jerk
I’m going to suggest a counter-intuitive approach: start to care about this person. Yeah, I know. This person is a really pain. It’s hard to care. Even a tiny little bit. But, care you must if you’re going to get past that superior attitude.
Here’s the thing: often, it’s the puffed-up people who have the deepest pain inside. Or, as the study authors from I/O at Work conclude, they’ve received the most negative feedback about their performance. Either way, they are covering up insecurity with obnoxious behavior.
How I Found a Way to Care
I once worked with someone who had a reputation for leaving “bodies in ditches” as a result of his arrogant, roughshod manner. One day, we were brainstorming and I could see that this person was not only intelligent but also highly creative – probably way more than his job required. I had a moment of insight – this guy was a square peg in a round hole at work. I found myself thinking, “It must really suck to be this out of place at work.” From that moment on, when I was frustrated with this person’s lack of interpersonal skill, I would draw on the fleeting moment of true empathy when I connected to his humanity – that soft underbelly that we all have – in a way that helped me see past his surly ways.
The Upshot in Dealing with Someone That’s Difficult to Work With
When dealing with a hard-to-like person at work, find something, anything that makes you empathize with this person. By connecting to a point of common ground, you’ll be able to see that person for the human he (or she) is, even if the behavior is unpalatable. Because going all Pee-Wee Herman, (“I Know You Are, But What Am I?”) just isn’t really going to work.
photo credit: istockphoto + modifications