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Is Arrogance a Sign of Inferior Performance?

Arrogant people at workArrogance, like salt on food, is a matter of taste -- what's a perfect dose of confidence for one person crosses the line into baseless self-regard for others. But now scientists are taking a more rigorous approach to arrogance, measuring this annoying quality quantitatively to determine whether those who value themselves most highly are actually worthy all that esteem.

BPS Occupational Digest, a new offshoot of the always excellent BPS Research Digest blog, reports on the work by management professor Russell Johnson and colleagues which was published in the journal Human Performance.

The researchers began their studies by speaking with workers on the ground about their experiences with arrogance and then used the data to develop a "Workplace Arrogance Scale" which they could use to measure a person's level of arrogance objectively. They then set out to use this tool to answer a more pressing question -- do those who act superior actually outperform their colleagues?
The short answer is no. A series of studies confirmed something that those irked by arrogant co-workers may have always suspected -- not only do colleagues of big-headed employees think less of their snotty co-worker's actual job performance, but arrogant people also gave themselves low marks. BPS reports:

Far from being the most able, arrogant workers were judged weaker in almost every way by one rating group or the other [themselves and by nominated individuals in their organization]. Some of the findings are less surprising: people who think their managers are arrogant grade them as poorer across the board, which may be... using the rating process to punish those they resent. Some are more compelling: individuals who rate themselves more arrogant rate themselves weaker at relationships and overall performance, with their supervisors and direct reports agreeing.

Another study looked at cognitive ability within another 172 working individuals who completed the Wesman Classification Test, a well-established measure of verbal and numerical reasoning. Weaker performance in either area was associated with higher ratings of arrogance.

BPS goes on the caution that as the study only used subjective evaluations of performance rather than cold, hard numbers like sales data or errors in an assigned task to evaluate performance, so the low ratings may in part just reflect the annoyance of working with stuck-up colleagues -- people dislike ego maniacs so give them more negative feedback regardless of their actual performance.

Personally, I found the results slightly surprising as my experience has done much to validate the idea of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that the incompetent are generally oblivious of their failings and full of confidence. Or as Bertrand Russell put it: "the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." But perhaps it's only the plain stupid who are oblivious, and the arrogant are actually aware of their shortcomings (though according the Wesman Classification Test there seems like there might be quite a bit of overlap between the two groups). What do you think?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user roland, CC 2.0)
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