Once in a while, people get in touch with me asking what they should do when people think they're arrogant.
It's an interesting question, with a couple of ways into the answer.
Central to this question is whether you are, or aren't, actually being arrogant. If you are arrogant, then it's time to look under the hood at what's going on. And if you're not arrogant, but people perceive you as that, then there's a different way to go...
If you're not really arrogant...
I'm the most unthreatening guy you could meet, but sometimes people say they're a little intimidated by me. That's like an angry bear being intimidated by Mr Fluffington the fluffy kitten, or like a supernova thinking that a firecracker is a little too explodey.
Point being, if you're really not arrogant but other people think you are, that's not your problem.
You can't control what other people think of you, so at the end of the day you have to let go of their judgements of you.
That said, here are a couple of things to look at or consider.
How big is the gap?
Arthur C. Clarke said that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", and a similar thing can happen with confidence when the gap between the confident and the not-confident is large enough. To someone with little or no confidence, someone with abundant confidence may appear too confident.
It doesn't hurt to be considerate or compassionate
Sometimes it's entirely appropriate to dial things down a little, and adapting your style to the situation you're in or the individual you're with is entirely appropriate when it serves you both well. If your confidence or extroversion outweighs someone else's by a large margin, think about how it might feel for them.
Your job is not to make everyone like you
With the above two points accepted, always remember that some people just won't gel with you, get you or even like you. That's okay, so get ready to let go of the need to seek approval or validation. Oh, and be aware that this can be done from a warm-hearted, generous place (i.e. confident) rather than a "fuck you and the horse you rode in on" place (i.e. arrogant).
If you really are arrogant...
The other option, of course, is that you really are arrogant and the other person is calling you on it.
How do you know if you really are arrogant? Here are 5 big clues:
- You go out of your way to be right, and to let people know you're right
- The most important person in any conversation is probably you
- As far as you're concerned, you have it figured out and other people just slow you down
- Getting your own way is how you know you're on the right path
- It matters that the world sees you as successful or better than others
If you put the clues together and figure out that you really are arrogant, then here's what you need to do.
Just stop it
Please just let go of the pretence that you're right, or that you're better or that you have the answers. You may be right sometimes, but nobody is right all of the time. You may be better at some things than others, but there are others who are better than you. Better doesn't matter. And while you may have some good answers, pretending that you have all of them or that your answers are right for everyone is just a story you tell to big yourself up.
Arrogance is often about making sure you're okay in a world filled with uncertainty. It's a mask for insecurity. The antidote is to practice leaning into uncertainty, without your usual armour, walls or comfort blankets. Take off the armour and allow yourself to be scared.
Soften into connections
Arrogance isolates you through its dependence on self-righteousness and validation. It disconnects you from other people, and the answer is to soften into relationships, rather than harden against them.
There's a third possibility...
The third possibility (there's always a third possibility) is that you're sometimes arrogant. Maybe you're sometimes arrogant at work, with a particular group or a specific individual. Maybe it happens with an old friend. Maybe with someone in your family. Or maybe that comes out when you're tired or stressed out.
Arrogance might catch you unaware and hijack your best intentions, giving you a little rush of power or control that feeds off others.
Notice that. Interrupt it. Respond to the situation differently. Let go of the need to be right, or to be seen as right.
Because life is way too fucking short for arrogance.