Trying to be the smartest person in the room isn’t very smart.
Have you ever been in a meeting where that certain person was driving you crazy because they were trying to be the smartest person in the room? Or have you been collaborating and the colleague playing devil’s advocate just kept slowing the group down? We’ve all been there, and in today’s competitive environment, there are plenty of people trying to prove themselves, demonstrate their capabilities and make an impact.
But hopefully, you’ve also had the opposite experience—working with the person who adds terrific value, and is liberal in their appreciation of others—or completing the project with the teammate who positively challenged the group and contributed to a better solution.
The Negative Effects Of Arrogance
The difference in these experiences is surely based on a lot of factors, but ego may be one of them. A new study by the University of Missouri found while arrogance is something we all tend to possess in small ways, the truly annoying types of arrogance exist on a spectrum ranging from individual arrogance (inflated sense of personal value), comparative arrogance (inflated sense of value compared to others), and antagonistic arrogance (sense of superiority which devalues others). No matter its form, arrogance is something to avoid.
In fact, one study showed working for arrogant leaders had negative effects on team member performance, self-esteem and morale. And it’s true that arrogance can be a result of lower self-image which is masked: Research published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making demonstrated that lower self-confidence can result in less ethical and more self-interested behavior. In addition, arrogant leadership can have negative effects on retention as in the adage that “people join companies and leave leaders.” In a study by DDI, 57 percent of people left their company because of their boss. Acting superior to others is a poor strategy for many reasons.
The Need For Status
This is not to say we don’t all want some level of status. It is part of the human condition to feel we matter and are valued by the community. Research by the University of California Berkeley found status is fundamental. People want to feel valued and respected and want others to show them some deference. In fact, status was linked to health. Those with lower status were more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and cardiovascular disease. Another study by the University of Oxford found seven common social needs across 60 different societies. Among them were deference, respect, reciprocity and equity. Ultimately, people want to feel valued, respected and treated fairly.
Tips For Confidence Without Arrogance
So, if needing social status is fundamental to humans, but arrogance has a negative effect on others and on the group, how do you balance these? Here are six tips for avoiding the arrogance trap:
Focus on ideas, not yourself. When you’re challenging the group or playing devil’s advocate, be sure you’re doing so because the idea is important, not because you believe you are important. Avoid arrogance and be sure your advocacy is for the benefit of the group and the quality of its output.
Respect others’ points of view. At the same time, you may have confidence in your own idea, acknowledge the value of others’ ideas as well. Your advocacy for your thoughts shouldn’t overshadow people who may think differently. Authentically appreciate others—and do so out loud.
Listen and seek understanding. Perhaps the best evidence of respecting others’ points of view is listening and asking questions to understand perspectives which are unique. Assume ideas different than your own have value and something from which you can learn.
Invite different opinions. When you’re sharing something new or different, rather than seeking agreement, ask whether others see things differently. The brilliant social scientist Chris Argyris suggested organizational success wouldn’t come from suppressing conflict, but through encouraging dialogue and testing of ideas.
Share early. Don’t assume a bullet-proof idea is the most convincing. Often, people are more convinced to try something new when they have the opportunity to shape the solution. Put ideas forward when they aren’t fully baked so participants have the chance to provide input and influence the end-game.
Cooperate. A study published in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science found when people cooperate, they tend to rise to positions of leadership. Rather than forcing your ideas or seeking to push them through the system, find common ground and collaborate with others. In this kind of atmosphere, your ideas will be more likely to stick and influence others.
A devil’s advocate is a critical role when you’re collaborating and can prevent the group from going in the wrong direction, but healthy challenge can’t be based on ego. Instead of taking a truculent approach, prioritize your ideas over yourself, respect others’ points of view, listen, invite differences of opinion and provide the opportunity for cooperation and for others to shape outcomes. The point isn’t to be the smartest person in the room, rather it’s to advance the process—and this is the smartest idea of all.