Generally speaking, the advice goes that, if you're kind and respectful to others, your positive behavior will pay off and you'll find success. But as life already might have shown you, arrogant people are everywhere. They don't always play nice, and unfortunately, that can let them snatch what you want and deserve right out from under you. How is it that such a stinky trait lets them squish you with their thumbs?

The hidden benefits of looking down your nose at others

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Glenn Geher, professor of psychology at State University of New York at New Paltz, explains how arrogance can hold advantages.

1. Arrogant people aren't afraid to spew angry venom or attack others. Arrogant people tend to express their anger and make fights personal relatively easy. It takes a great deal of emotional intelligence to defend yourself without making this kind of situation worse, and many people are so shocked by the attacks that, because of the way stress shuts down the logic centers of the brain, they have trouble responding at all. 

2. Arrogant people are a challenge. Arrogant people tend to score low on agreeableness on personality tests. They have no problem stubbornly promoting themselves and resisting the proposals of others, even if they do so in a "polite" way. This ego-based resistance is exhausting to others.

3. Arrogant people believe they are (and enjoy being) superior. Even as arrogant people score low on personality tests for agreeableness, they score higher on measures of feeling superior, as well as on measures of social dominance. Their feelings of being a level up from others supports them in different ways, such as giving them the confidence to take more risks or even looking more attractive to potential romantic partners.

The common thread in all these advantages? Intimidation. In various ways, each trait makes the arrogant person seem a lot like a wild bear. That bear might be stinky and have fleas, but it is also horrifically strong. If you aren't brave, confident and patient enough to handle it, it can roar in your face until you back down. And as soon as you do that, the arrogant person has established themselves as dominant. It's the dominant people who are able to claim power and all the perks that come with it.

So if an arrogant person stands in your way, what do you do?

Geher recommends banding together with others and using the power of numbers to fend off the arrogant people in your life. For example, you could join forces with teammates to make sure the arrogant person is following all proper chains of command and protocols, rather than pushing their own ideas through without approval or consideration to others. But if you are flying solo and have to deal with the individual on your own, try to

1. Work based on facts. Arrogant people's overconfidence often is centered based on little more than their own feeling, their perception that they're superior. Your job is to change that feeling and perception by calmly and politely asking for and providing information or proof. For instance, cheerfully say you'd love to see the evidence of the accomplishment they're claiming. If they boldly assert a view you disagree with, ask if they've considered x, y or z and provide some reference materials.

2. Mention others who have had success. For instance, you could say, "Wow! That reminds me of Janet from accounting. Did you know she..." or "This makes me think you should connect with Joe--I bet you'd learn a ton from him." This doesn't belittle what the arrogant person said, but shifts the conversation in such a way that the arrogant person is forced to acknowledge, however subconsciously, that they're not the only one with skills, knowledge or ideas.

3. Establish clear boundaries. Arrogant people tend to believe that they don't need to ask permission, or that it's OK to invade others' time and space. Put your foot down on what you will and will not tolerate and they'll quickly learn you're not their doormat.

4. Be honest. All too often, arrogant people get even more arrogant because others agree with their opinions hoping to avoid uncomfortable confrontations. Be truthful, even if it creates a little tension you have to work through. For instance, if they go off for an hour about the greatness of their painting that looks like toddler scratch, it's OK to say that it doesn't appeal to you personally. Ultimately, your honesty and transparency will show them you're someone to be trusted, not manipulated.

5. Become a friend. This doesn't mean you have to bake them cookies and laud their every win on LinkedIn. Rather, it means that you take time to understand who they are and what motivates them. Although it's not the case every time, arrogance often can mask a lot of pain and insecurity--that is, it's a coping mechanism. If you find out their story, you'll be in a better position to keep your emotions under control with them. But perhaps more importantly, you'll have a better shot at properly addressing the needs they're trying to use arrogance to fulfill, which could reduce or stop their negative behaviors altogether.

Published on: May 18, 2018