Off-the-charts arrogance is arrogance so far beyond garden-variety arrogance that most people don't recognize it as arrogance. They simply can't believe that anyone could say such things and truly believe them unless what they said was actually true. The extremism of off-the-charts arrogance is therefore what prevents us from identifying it as arrogance. And that's why off-the-charts arrogance is perhaps the most dangerous of all the narcissistic behaviors I've been exploring over these past three months.
As a reminder, the behaviors and attitudes typically regarded as narcissistic are these:
- Expresses exaggerated self-importance
- Preoccupied with superiority fantasies
- Believes that he or she is special and that only special people or institutions can fully appreciate that specialness
- Constantly demands attention and admiration from others
- Expects and demands favorable treatment
- Exploits others for personal ends
- Ruthless disregard for the feelings of others
- Envies others or believes that others envy him or her
- Is off-the-charts arrogant
Let's now have a closer look at the ninth item above: off-the-charts arrogance. For convenience in this series, I've been referring to the person exhibiting narcissistic behaviors and attitudes as either Nick or Nora. This time, it's Nora.
- When Nora enters a room, she expects to be acknowledged, not by a simple "Hey," or "Hi Nora," but by everyone present turning their attention to her. Even better, anyone who's seated should rise to greet her. Her contributions to conversations are invariably about herself, and they're always positive. Many of her self-aggrandizing comments serve double duty by simultaneously insulting others, or by advancing her own agenda at the expense of others' agendas. She accomplishes these feats by relying on a fairly impressive ability to charm people.
- Perhaps the most revealing Of all narcissistic behaviors,
off-the-charts arrogance is
perhaps the most dangerous
to the organizationillustrations of Nora's off-the-charts arrogance are her responses when people point out inaccuracies or inconsistencies in her assertions. She usually finds a way to deny having made the disputed assertion, or she refutes the claim as inaccurate, or derails the exchange by raising unrelated issues, all while attacking the personhood of the claimant. She targets for ultimate destruction any repeat "offenders."
- Assertions about her own capabilities might be mere expressions of confidence if Nora's focus were comparing her capabilities to what might be needed to actually accomplish the task before her. But her focus isn't the task; her focus is asserting that her capabilities are superior to others' capabilities. (See "Is It Arrogance or Confidence?," Point Lookout for March 14, 2018, for more) Those who exhibit run-of-the-mill arrogance are annoying individuals. But Nora's off-the-charts arrogance makes impossible the task of determining whether or not she actually believes she can achieve the objectives to which she has committed herself and others. She effectively ignores the tasks before her until disaster looms, at which point she casts about for an escape or for someone weak enough to serve as a scapegoat. Acknowledging her own errors or deficits is beyond her capability, which shortcoming can lead ultimately to her own undoing.
- Organizational risks
- Most narcissistic behaviors provide fuel for toxic conflict. Arrogance is very effective as such fuel, and it presents significant organizational risk. But Nora's off-the-charts arrogance, combined with her charm, can lull the people of the organization into believing that she can accomplish impossible feats. Or it can lead the organization's people to commit to objectives that are actually beyond their reach, and which might be beyond anyone's reach. These delusions expose the organization to the risk of committing itself to impossible budgets and schedules, or worse, to goals unattainable with any budget or within any schedule.
- Coping tactics
- As Nora's supervisor, coping tactics for the toxic conflict generated by her arrogance are similar to those suggested in previous installments of this series. See "Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VIII," Point Lookout for May 16, 2018, for an example. More important is the risk that Nora has persuaded the organization to commit to unattainable objectives. Carefully review any initiative Nora has energetically advocated, even if she's no longer involved — actually, especially if she's no longer involved. To determine feasibility, seek the advice of dispassionate experts.
- As Nora's co-worker, be aware that expressing skepticism about Nora's capabilities will probably make you a target of hers. To protect her view of herself, she'll do what she can to reduce your influence, permanently if possible. Expressing doubt about her capabilities is therefore a risk to your career. Do so only if you've prepared defenses, including interventions by very powerful players in your organization.
This issue brings to a close my series on narcissistic behaviors. These nine behaviors interact and reinforce each other in ways that might not be evident at first read. Even if you've been reading the pieces in this series issue-by-issue as they became available, reading them again can provide fresh insight. First in this series Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.