Managing Arrogant People
Developing Team Players
When Alejandro joined your team three months ago, you couldn't wait for him to get started. You knew that he was a highly skilled expert, who put in the hours and always hit his targets. However, you didn't know that he'd prove impossible to manage!
You quickly discovered that Alejandro doesn't accept guidance, and he fails to follow instructions. In meetings, he talks across other people and tries to take charge, even when he's not familiar with the agenda. And, he often submits work that is completely different from what you requested, because he knows a "better" way to do it.
Alejandro's attitude and body language imply that he's impatient and dismissive of you, and you've received a number of complaints from other team members about his rude, abrupt and arrogant behavior. So, what can you do to improve the situation, and rebuild relationships within the team?
In this article, we'll explore what arrogance is, how arrogant people often behave, and how you can manage arrogant team members.
See our Team Management section for more on managing different types of people. You might also find our articles on Managing Overconfident People, Dealing With Bossy Co-Workers, and Managing Egos at Work useful.
Arrogant people behave in a way that suggests they are superior to those around them. Arrogance can take many forms, such as an inflated sense of self-importance, a belief that you are better than others, impatience with less knowledgeable team members, an unwillingness to listen, or disdain for different points of view.
Arrogant team members are less likely to accept feedback or direction than others, they may ignore advice or guidance, and they can blindly pursue misguided courses of action due to their overwhelming belief in themselves and their abilities.
Russell E. Johnson, associate professor of management at Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, explains that managing arrogant people can be particularly tough, because they may not be aware of how they come across, or understand that their behavior is "wrong." However, he also argues that arrogance can be a way to mask low confidence, despite exaggerated appearances otherwise, and that arrogant people may also lack social skills, or simply be impatient with those around them.
Effects of Arrogance
Arrogance can be extremely damaging in the workplace. For example, it can:
- Lower morale and team performance. An arrogant team member's attitude and behavior towards others can impact morale and camaraderie, despite his or her own effective performance.
- Hinder effective communication. People may be less inclined to involve an arrogant colleague in meetings or discussions, and might actively seek to exclude him. This can affect team communication, and reduce productivity.
- Lead to poor decision making. If one person is left out of communications, or an arrogant team member decides that a decision is "wrong," this can harm the decision-making process.
- Make team interactions more difficult. People may feel uncomfortable or resentful around an arrogant team member, which can create a strained or stressful working environment.
- Put your leadership under pressure. When a team member questions your decisions and instructions, directly or indirectly, it can undermine your authority.
- Impact on the wider organizational and customer/client relationships. When relationships between your people are strained, this can affect the team's wider reputation within the organization. Unhappy or unmotivated people may also struggle to keep customers satisfied and engaged.
Arrogance or Self-Confidence?
Arrogance within a team is intrinsically negative, but a person with high confidence and self-belief is often a positive influence. For example, she is likely to be intelligent, competent, creative, and driven, and her belief in her abilities may mean that she doesn't "suffer fools gladly," but it likely also means that she is able to perform at an exceptionally high level.
She will likely have a strong belief in her skills and abilities, which means that she can pick herself up after knock-backs, failures or mistakes. These traits can also help her perform better under pressure, or in a highly competitive environment.
So, think carefully about your team member's attitude and performance. Is she arrogant, or simply self-confident? (Arrogance implies misplaced self-confidence.)
As a manager, it's important to be aware of how arrogance can affect a team, and to take quick and decisive action to deal with it. However, you should also recognize that an arrogant person may also have qualities that you should nurture.
Follow the seven steps below to manage your arrogant team members effectively.
1. Gather Evidence
You and your team members may be fully aware of an arrogant colleague's actions, but you should also gather hard evidence about them. Record when he tries to interrupt or hijack meetings, when he ignores instructions, when he treats a colleague poorly, and so on.
This will help you to gauge the seriousness of the problem, and its likely effect on your people; and it will help you be specific with any feedback you give. Think carefully before you speak to other team members about his behavior – it might be better just to observe it at this early stage.
2. Consider Her Performance
Before you take any further action, consider the wider impact, effect and influence of her behavior, both on the team and externally. Is she a "star" performer, a recognized industry authority, or an expert in her field? Or is her behavior masking an underlying performance weakness?
You have to let your arrogant team member know what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Bear in mind that he may not realize how his actions affect others, and he might be horrified to find out.
Schedule a private, face-to-face meeting to discuss the situation, and focus on the evidence you have gathered about his behavior and attitude. Explain why this is unacceptable to you, to the organization, and to the wider team, and emphasize the importance of humility and Level 5 Leadership. It's often not necessary to escalate the issue at this stage unless someone has made a formal complaint. However, you should make it clear that you are not prepared to tolerate his behavior.
While it's important to confront him, be careful not to come across as aggressive or confrontational when you give feedback. There may be issues that you aren't aware of, such as family problems, stress or illness, that cause him to behave in this way.
4. Support Her
Consider why your arrogant team member behaves in this way. Does she feel frustrated, overlooked or unchallenged at work? Does she want more responsibility? Perhaps she suffers from impostor syndrome and is terrified of being "found out"? What does she want from the organization? Is something missing for her?
Think about how you can provide support address these issues, while making it clear that you're not rewarding her poor behavior!
5. Accept That Change Takes Time
Your arrogant team member may have accepted that he needs to change, but it's important to realize that this won't happen overnight. He may revert to his old behavior occasionally, and it will take time to re-establish fractured relationships with other team members.
So, listen actively to what your team members are saying, show that you're taking the issue seriously, and be prepared to take further action if necessary. You need to be clear that you won't tolerate arrogant behavior.
6. Consider Using Coaching
Coaching can be very effective for encouraging arrogant team members to understand other people's abilities and needs. It allows you to develop an open and ongoing dialogue, which can help to build trust, and to tackle negative behaviors when they arise.
Ongoing coaching allows you to focus on her positive behaviors, not just the negative ones, and to recognize her strengths, value and contribution to the team. And, you can explain how everyone will benefit from her changing her behavior.
Use coaching to develop her self-awareness, so that she has a better, more objective sense of how she behaves towards others and how this affects them. And use coaching with feedback to help her feel more engaged and part of the team. This can be particularly helpful because it allows you to raise specific negative behaviors that you have observed.
7. Take Further Action
If your arrogant team member's behavior continues, and morale and performance issues remain a problem, you should address this from a disciplinary point of view, particularly if he is undermining your authority as a manager. Talk to your HR department before you take any action, and follow the guidance you receive carefully.
Arrogance can damage a team's morale and performance, and it can undermine your authority as a manager. However, this behavior might indicate that your team member is trying to mask fears or worries about performance, skills or competency.
You should address arrogant behavior quickly and firmly, by gathering information, and then by letting your team member know what is and isn't acceptable. Keep communication channels open, and provide ongoing coaching and support. However, if her arrogant behavior continues, consider taking disciplinary action.
Apply This in Your Life
- Do you have an arrogant team member, or do you exhibit any of these behaviors yourself? Arrogant traits include using condescending phrases or put-downs, trying to dominate through your body language, interrupting or talking over people, being impatient with people, not listening, and blaming others.
- Make sure that you listen actively at all times, and take steps to develop your emotional intelligence.
- Recognize how damaging arrogance can be, and make a conscious effort to be accepting and inclusive.