Rude, Arrogant, and Powerful?

Being conscientious is a good predictor of performance in a job.

It doesn’t mean however that you will be seen as powerful.

The evidence suggests that it is the rude and arrogant person who is perceived as being a powerful decision-maker.

A paper published earlier this year in Social Psychological & Personality Science; ” Breaking Rules to Rise to Power…” found that people rated rule-breakers as being more in control and leaderlike than conscientious types.

Researchers in Amsterdam wanted to see if the reverse were true. If you break the rules are you seen as more powerful? And the answer appears to be yes.

People in positions of power have more freedom to act and can ignore the rules. Research has shown that powerful people often ignore the social norms of he workplace for example by taking more than their share of the biscuits from the plate, eating with their mouths open and spreading crumbs.

In the Dutch experiments participants were given scenarios in which people violated the rules at work by stealing coffee and ignoring financial anomalies. A control group was given similar scenarios without the norm violations. Participants recognised the norm violations but also rated the culprits as more powerful.

Then, in a real-life experiment in a waiting room, one of the confederates who arrived late and threw his bag on the table was perceived as the more powerful. In another video experiment they tested the hypothesis that powerful people react with anger rather than sadness to negative events, in this case treating a waiter brusquely and dropping cigarette ash on the floor.

The authors say; “as individuals gain power they experience increased freedom to violate prevailing norms. Paradoxically these norm violations may not undermine the actor’s power but instead augment it, thus fuelling a self-perpetuating cycle of power and immorality”.

Rudeness is a cross we have to bear in the workplace. Surveys show that the percentage of employees experiencing rudeness at work more than once a week doubled between 1998 and 2005 from 25% to 50%. In fact in 2005 25% of employees experienced rudeness every day.

This has a negative effect on the organisation as people lose focus, try to avoid the rude person, are less productive and think more about leaving.  And you don’t have to be the object of the rudeness. According to American researchers, just witnessing it effects your cognitive ability in problem solving, flexibility, creativity, and helpfulness. Like stress the rude encounter makes us more stupid.

And it seems more than 9 out of 10 people get even with the rude person or the organisation in some way eg through vendettas.  And rudeness seems to be contagious making us ruder and more aggressive than we would be normally. So not good for the organisation let alone customers and employees.

On the other hand research at the University of Michigan shows that virtuous behaviour has the opposite effect. The more people experience helpfulness, forgiveness, generosity, courage, and support – or even just witness it – the more they are likely to do the same.

So virtuous behaviours encourage flexibility, creativity and good team work and makes employees feel good at work, thus enhancing employee engagement.

But what of the rude and arrogant people themselves? A report in the Psychologist this year described the work of Russell Johnson and colleagues at Michigan State University who developed a Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) to use in their research. This measured behaviours such as “shoots down other people’s ideas in public”.

First they defined arrogance as “behaviours that exaggerate your importance and disparages others”So first cousin to narcissism except that narcissism includes thoughts and attitudes that don’t effect others such as self-admiration.

Their research showed that arrogant individuals report fewer examples of organisational citizenship behaviours such as helping people and going the extra mile. So confirmation of other research in this field.

They then looked at how good arrogant employees were at their jobs. They used the WARS, measures of overall task performance and performance in specific areas such as customers, relationships, and development. Individuals rated themselves and were rated by nominated individuals in their organisation – a selective 360 degree survey.

They found that arrogant workers were rated as being weaker in almost every way by their raters. Some people who rated their managers as arrogant also rated them as poor across the board so there was possibly a horns (negative halo) effect or just some of the payback other researchers have found.

Perhaps surprisingly arrogant employees also rated themselves weaker at relationships and overall performance with both their supervisors and direct reports in agreement. In another study the arrogant individuals reported lower self-esteem and more job-related strain. They also seem to fixate on minimising mistakes rather than focussing on success.

As the research didn’t include objective measures such as sales figures, it might be that arrogant employees realise they are ostracised and because of their low self-esteem join with their critics and discount themselves about their perceived performance.

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