01. The Pitfalls of Arrogance at the Workplace

Rajib, the manager in a bank, was preparing to deliver an important presentation to the senior management in his organization.  Hence, he had to make sure that all the details, right. He had to ensure that the last quarter report was thoroughly verified, that the numbers tallied, the proposed ideas were novel and backed by market data, etc.

To say that Rajib was stressed out would be an understatement.

The meeting was due to start in fifteen minutes and the LCD projector simply refused to turn on.  worse still, his technical staff had already left for the day. 

Just then, Riya, a bright new hire, walked in to the room.  Rajib had asked her to observe this meeting so that she could be better prepared when she has to lead such meetings in future.  Riya greeted Rajib with a warm smile and politely asked him, “Where do I sit?”  With a straight face, though through clenched teeth, Rajib said, “Why don’t you sit on the projector or on my head?”  .


What do you think of Rajib’s demeanour?  Was it appropriate, even given his present frustration?  What message does this behaviour send to his team?

Arrogance is not a trait you’d like to be associated with, especially if you’re looking to move up the corporate ladder.  Aggression is behaviour that demeans and treats others around you as lesser mortals.

Now, you could be yelling at someone with the intent of getting work done, or you could be venting your anger in front of a group that has no contribution to the situation at hand. Whatever be the reason, arraogance is rude, unprofessional and uncalled for.

To succeed in the kind of corporate setup we are in today, you need to take people along and not drop them off at every step of the ladder.


Are You Aggressive or a Jerk?

Yelling at people, using abusive language, interfering in others’ work to impose personal ideas/standards, threatening to sack/hurt them?  Aggression is all this and more.  It is the ‘my way or the highway mindset’.

Now, in addition to harsh words or words spoken in a harsh tone, aggression would also include hostile glares, withholding praise/feedback that a team member deserves, and using misusing your position/power to gain undue advantages.

Aggressive managers people generally talk over others, are poor listeners, and have their own narrow world view.

Yet we see such behaviour being practiced.  What is funny though is that these leaders believe that they are being assertive and not aggressive.  Getting people to toe their line, without taking the other person’s needs, feelings or rights into account, is their definition of being assertive.


The Downside of Being Aggressive

The truth is that barring very few occasions where arrogance can possibly be justified as the last available resort, such behaviour takes a mental and physical toll you, and all parties concerned.

Whether you like it or not, people are forming perceptions of you all the time.  You might argue that confident people don’t worry about what others think of them, but perceptions matter. And people often can’t see aggression in themselves – they need to be told by others.

Multiple studies tell us that the number of people quitting for want of a better boss is way higher than the number leaving for an increase in salary.  No matter how powerful you might think you are, nobody likes to be bullied.  If you as a manager/leader rule by ‘fear’, you’ll only hear good things about yourself until the day when your boat is ready to sink.  Your team will be afraid of speaking the truth about you and other important matters concerning the team; they will go out of their way to avoid and isolate you.    Aggression leads to demotivated teams, a rise in office politics, sucking out the joy from working together.  You might win the battle by steamrolling your team members. You will most definitely lose the war.

Eventually, if aggression seeps into the culture of an organization, the overall work environment can turn toxic, decisions can get flawed and responsibilities encroached upon, leading the organization towards downfall.


The Need of the Hour

“Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression. Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good.”

  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Authoritative and directive leadership has been replaced by the collaborative style of leadership.  It’s all about engaging people and effectively persuading them, hearing their opinions and taking them along.  The focus is on enabling others to succeed individually while accomplishing a collective outcome.  Intimidation and domination are a thing of the past.  Good leaders make themselves accessible to their people and refrain from working in silos.

Note that the millennials – GenY – have even lower tolerance for inappropriate behaviour and plenty of opportunities to choose from; they will not brook aggressive behaviour.   Leaders who continue to tread the aggressive path will soon be rendered obsolete by their own behaviour.

So, what’s the way out?


Effective Communication: An Assertive Approach

Assertiveness is standing up for your rights without violating those of another.  It is founded on the premise of respect and openness towards one another.  Being assertive requires you to keep calm and not lose focus during difficult times – be it in verbal or non-verbal communication.  In the story above, while Rajib’s aggression was not directed towards Riya, her perception of Rajib is now that of an aggressive bully.

Assertiveness says, “Just as I have rights, needs and feelings so do you. And I, as manager, have a responsibility of upholding these. It is saying that just as I have the right to say ‘no’ in a given situation, I acknowledge and respect that you have an equal right to say ‘no’.  Starting with this premise, let’s see how we can find a way forward.”

Being assertive is not a game of one-upmanship.  It is about meeting your needs in a confident and direct manner without taking unnecessary advantage of the others’ predicament.  It is the most effective way to communicate in a professional setting.


*Ahamkara: Sanskrit term related to ego and egoism.  The term “ahamkara” comes from the Vedic philosophy, where Ahaṃ refers to the concept of the Self or “I” and kāra refers to the concept of “any created thing” or “to do”.