Like most, I have a few pet peeves when it comes to office behavior. Some of them I can ignore, but two I really, truly hate: inefficiency and underachievement. When I see someone wasting time, I think of a thousand ways they could be making different, better choices. And a large part of my consulting work involves helping employers empower and get better performance from their people.
I think almost everyone does the same at some point during the work day. Do you occasionally find yourself looking at a supervisor or coworker and thinking, "He could be doing so much better," or "I would approach that in a completely different way than her"? I bet you do. And perhaps you are correct. Perhaps you could do it better. But be careful! You are starting down the path of the very worst of the seven deadly sins: Arrogant Pride.
For Dante, pride belonged in the very center ring of hell. As a poet of skill and a man of conscience, of course, he allowed for others to know their own strengths and take satisfaction in work well done. What Dante condemned was the kind of self-love that could make a person blind to both their own faults and the gifts that others have to give. You know, the guy who thinks he's God, or that he knows everything, or his you-know-what doesn't stink.
Recent research in Organizational Psychology suggests that arrogance is one of the most damaging workplace imperfections. It has even been called a "formula for leadership failure" by a team of university researchers. Becoming convinced of your own superiority is the easiest way to make everyone in your office hate you, which never results in anything good for the company, your career, or your soul. The temptation can arise in more subtle ways that you might think, as the examples below demonstrate.
1. You cut others off in conversation.
An idea or piece of information seems so revelatory that it's hard to wait your turn to share. Hey, I get it. But you really should wait until the other person has finished speaking. If that's tough to manage, write a few quick bullet points of your ideas while they wind down their comments. If you feel the group dynamic doesn't allow you to be heard, ask your meeting facilitator or team lead to implement some clearer guidelines for conversation.
2. You indulge in name-calling.
"That guy's an idiot!" "Geez, what a loser!" It's easy to vent a little frustration or anxiety with some name calling. It may not even be someone at work you're referencing, but an obnoxious TV pundit or the guy who cut you off as you drove the carpool this morning. Do it often enough and others will wonder if you judge everyone so harshly, including them.
3. You lead with your "but."
Maybe you intend to play devil's advocate. Or perhaps you mean to demonstrate the importance of caution when debating new ideas. Somehow, though, your response to others' suggestions is always, "But...." followed by all the reasons that it won't work. Nothing kills creativity or good will quicker. Would it be so difficult to just let ideas flow for a few minutes, or to compliment others on their quick thinking? You can get into the real pros and cons when decision time is closer.
4. You one up every anecdote.
Your office mate has indigestion? You tell them about the time you were up all night vomiting. Your admin assistant got a flat tire? You recall when both your shoes melted as you walked 10 miles to work in 150-degree heat. You might believe the sharing is a gesture of empathy and bonding, but if it shifts the focus from their emotions to yours, you'll end up looking needy and greedy. If you started with a simple expression of understanding, and maybe get them to laugh a little, they might invite you to share something from your well of great personal anecdotes.
5. You're a citizen on patrol for the fashion, grammar, or etiquette police.
Yes, it is embarrassing to be caught with a fly down or using a malapropism. Yes, a good coworker quietly points that out as soon as possible. There are limits, however, to how much intervention anyone wants into their habits of dress, speech, or behavior. It makes little difference whether you make corrections directly to your victim's face, or simply comment to the closest bystander once they are out of earshot. You still end up looking like Barney Fife.
6. You can't forget that hurtful situation.
And you make sure no one else will, either. You have vivid memories of that rotten boss who made everyone miserable before he transferred. Or you worked your tail off for a promotion that went to some chick who quit six months later. It really sucked, and it soothes the ache to reminisce in detail at every water cooler or happy hour opportunity. Perhaps it is time to take note of how little others add to the conversation, or how quickly they change the topic. If they've moved on, perhaps you should find a way to let it go, too.
7. You always have more going on than anyone else in the room.
So they should understand why you were late to the meeting, or why you really need them to take on a few tasks for you. You're funny, and friendly, and ready with a dozen jokes about how many things you're juggling at once. You even buy occasional gift cards or lunch to show others that you remember and appreciate the favors they do. But somehow you never notice that they have plenty of their own concerns, deadlines to meet, and demands on their time.