I know what some of you might be thinking. Ummm, Blair, did I read the title of this one correctly? Arrogance is bad.
Of course, arrogance can be a big problem in love and leadership. In a recent and poignant tweet chat about vanity, members of one of my online leadership communities became so fierce about this flaw, it was bordering on arrogant. But if everything light has a shadow, isn’t the opposite also true?
Let me explain.
A while back, in one of my workshops for women, I was teaching a small and amazing group how to Hold Their Own in negotiations and tricky interpersonal exchanges. They began to role play in pairs, and in one, two lovers were embroiled in a full on reactivity fest — a fight that was going nowhere fast. After making a few ineffective suggestions, I offered to model the communication by switching roles with the member who had been playing the woman and inviting her to play the guy, which I thought she might enjoy. (Yup. She whooped it up.)
Within a few exchanges, we got her (as him) to speechlessness. The antagonism diffused. I always like that moment. It means the power struggle and the dialogue loop has been interrupted. After, when we were reflecting on the interaction, what worked and why, one witness pointed out: “I thought you were arrogant.”
Arrogant. The student had no idea of the charge surrounding that word for me. You see, when you start studying human behavior because your acting teacher told you to at 10 years old, and you take that exercise very seriously, and you witness how much fallacy there is in adult human interaction, it’s easy to think that you know just about everything that is really important to know by your early 20s. At which point, I was pretty arrogant. It was defense against incredible loneliness and isolation. And eventually my friends let me know it. And that left me feeling pretty humbled, because I didn’t know how else to be. It took me a long time and some serious losses to undo my arrogance, access humility and put it all back together.
I think many leaders and old souls have a tendency towards arrogance. We’ve grown up knowing certain things, and when older people who are in charge seem blind to it, we feel outraged, and underneath that, deeply alone. But of course we have no words for it, so it becomes an attitude, an expression of a heart hardened by disappointment.
I questioned myself after the workshop ended. “Was I arrogant? Is THAT what I was teaching? If so, what does that mean?
When I shared the whole shebang with my mentor, expecting to bump into something uncomfortable lurking within, he simply asked, “What’s wrong with arrogance?”
Hmmm. I love how he continues to stump me.
And so, after much reflection on that question, I can say to you, my answer is: quite a bit, when it is chronic, and not much, when used sparsely, with particular intent. When someone is behaving in a way that blatantly shows off their worst parts, parts that reveal bigotry or ill-timed thought or action, once in a while, it’s okay to take an arrogant or judgmental stance. You’re not saying, I’m a better person than you. You are saying:
You’re smarter than that. And since you’re not acting like it. I’m smarter than that.
If you’ve ever dealt with an out of control, hostile client, you know that there are times when NICE doesn’t cut it. Using an arrogant tone or remark in these cases can have two positive effects: 1) it can bounce the offender out of their trance and into something else, like self-awareness and 2) it can help you stay clean and out of being embroiled in another’s neurotic attempts to involve you in their drama.
Here are some examples of reclaiming arrogance in love:
Let’s say your normally sweet spouse is acting sullen, rejecting, mean and unresponsive. You are supposed to go out on date night, but you say:
“If your going to be this awful the whole night, I’m staying home”
with a tone that clearly expresses judgment about ineffective, intolerable behavior.
Here’s another one I like to use when a girlfriend is hating herself in some bogus way, e.g. obsessing about being fat (i.e. size 8).
“You know you’re being ridiculous, right?”
Here’s an example of reclaiming arrogance at work:
Two colleagues start whispering, giggles included, in the middle of another colleague’s big presentation. They do this kind of thing often. They try to get you in on it.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
In these cases, being “nice,” or trying to talk about it, although well intended, just leaves you vulnerable to being gummed up in another’s soot. Arrogance can help create an edge that will allow you to deny the invitation.
What’s wrong with occasionally putting down what should be put down?
Interested in your thoughts.
And remember, Love Yourself, no matter what.