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A colleague of mine is very good at PR and branding himself and does this by communicating to the whole world his successes no matter how small they are. He does this in a very arrogant way, by making it sound like he has achieved this, and often puts an overly positive spin, masking the reality of the situation which is often not ideal.

In contrast, I like to get work done, and not make a big deal about it. I also like to have a balanced view and do not make situations sound better than they are.

The trouble is, he is now getting ahead by mingling with important people and is being invited to important events whereas I am starting to feel like I am being left behind.

I am starting to feel I need to become more like him, blow my trumpet after every little success, but I really don't want to do so. I find this egotistical.

Can you get ahead in the corporate world without being 'arrogant' and acting with an over inflated ego?

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, TheGirlHasNoName, Rory Alsop, Dmitry Grigoryev, JazzmanJim Mar 18 at 19:16

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    @bobo2000: It doesn't matter whether they come to him, or he goes to them. He still has to spend the time with them, no? – jamesqf Mar 16 at 4:23
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    I don't get why that there is a connection here suggested between "getting ahead by mingling with important people and being invited to important events" and arrogantly boasting about one's achievements in an unduly positive manner. These two are two different practices/techniques. – The_Sympathizer Mar 16 at 15:05
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    @The_Sympathizer well, the arrogance and trampling on colleagues (taking credit) has made him more transparent – bobo2000 Mar 17 at 13:48
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    @PaulD.Waite I tell them what I have done in my 1-1s – bobo2000 Mar 19 at 11:07

10 Answers 10

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This is a great question, and last time I checked (which was admittedly a long time ago), the psychological literature doesn't have a definitive answer. So I checked again.

The Industrial/Organizational Psychologist has a thorough, relatively recent article on Arrogance (PDF) and its impact on the workplace. One of the most interesting things in the article is they define Arrogance as (I'm paraphrasing here) putting others down, rather than putting oneself ahead. "Hubris" is the word they use to describe the kinds of behaviors you're talking about.

So what do we know about hubris? Though regrettably I haven't had time to do a thorough literature review, I found this rather persuasive article (PDF), which states:

"...hubris is the result of repeated interactions between actors within particular organizational contexts that facilitate its emergence. My contribution develops the view that hubris is much more of an organizational than a psychological phenomenon, and certainly more so than conventional accounts are inclined to acknowledge."

In other words, this author's contentions line up nicely with what you're seeing - Your colleague continues to engage in hubristic behaviors, because you're working in an environment that rewards that kind of thing (through face-time with more senior people, etc.)

So to answer your question, I'd say it's probably a qualified 'yes': you may have to behave that way to get ahead at this employer. Go somewhere else, and your experience may be entirely different.

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    +1 for an evidence-based answer – Dave Gremlin Mar 15 at 16:59
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    Agreed, and the observation that personality traits that predict performance may vary by role is also supported by psychologists (Which traits predict job performance?, APA). I do worry, though, that OP has also conflated high extraversion with arrogance. – CKM Mar 15 at 18:00
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    This is spot-on. I've worked in environments where self-promoters who trampled on coworkers consistently succeeded in achieving positions in management. I've worked in environments where that same type of behavior resulted in eye-rolling from coworkers and managers, but was allowed to continue. I've worked in environments where that type of behavior resulted in being shown the door very quickly. Generally, the recognition and rewards for genuine competency and high quality work is inversely related to how well hubris is tolerated. – Beofett Mar 15 at 18:38
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    This is what I have found as well. In the advertising industry it's almost required behaviour, though I'd like to think it's not the entire industry, only the few places I've worked at. – Aaron F Mar 15 at 18:54
  • Great answer. Something interesting from OP's response/comments... the person in question also apparently steals credit for other's work and others do nothing about it. Couldn't ask for a better environment.. – Mars Mar 18 at 6:12
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Do I need to be arrogant to get ahead?

No, never.

Can you get ahead in the corporate world without being 'arrogant' and acting with an over inflated ego?

Yes, always.

There is a difference between arrogance and being straightforward or truthful (vs. being diplomatic or "politically correct"), some seem to confuse these.

I like to get work done, and not make a big deal about it. I also like to have a balanced view and do not make situations sound better than they are.

Very good, please keep it up.

The trouble is, he is now getting ahead by mingling with important people and is being invited to important events whereas I am starting to feel like I am being left behind

There is a BIG difference between being arrogant and being able to "sell" something (or, oneself). This has nothing to do with one's ego.

  • Yes, it's true, not always everything gets noticed on their own and you need to make conscious efforts to make sure you are receiving what you are supposed to receive. That's how the real world works.

    Point to note: I'm not suggesting to present falsified claims about achievements, however, at times, the complexity and hardship one needs to overcome to achieve something is not visible to everyone unless the one who faced that, first-hands, explains about that. No need to be "all-emotional" about that, simple statistical analysis / comparisons do the trick most of the time. One of the best ways I've found to be truly useful to convey the overall effort invested while being subtle.

  • On the other hand, excessive self-promotion also will surely attract negative side-effects.

You need to find a balance between these, "how to self-promote without coming off as a jerk".

Some people have a natural quality for it, most of us need to practice.

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    Assertive and self-promoting are descriptions, while arrogant is a judgement. The OP seems to be conflating these unconditionally, and then adopting a "morally superior" stance in response (and simultaneously de-valuing "getting ahead"). – Upper_Case Mar 15 at 15:25
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    @bobo2000 Sorry to say, but he is able to do that because the "other" people, from whom he is snatching the credit, never speaks up. – Sourav Ghosh Mar 15 at 15:46
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    "Do I need to be arrogant to get ahead? No, never. Can you get ahead in the corporate world without being 'arrogant' and acting with an over inflated ego? Yes, always." Respectfully, this isn't consistent with the research on the subject. I didn't down-vote your answer, but see my answer below for details on what I'm driving at. – Bill Horvath Mar 15 at 16:42
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    This is idealistic, not realistic. Arrogance is a very effective way to get ahead, and diligence isn't, because management can't tell the difference between arrogance and talent. This state of affairs is self-perpetuating. – TKK Mar 15 at 21:35
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    Huh, strange. I thought the question was about the real world, not the idealized picture of a world that we sometimes read about in children's books. The first two statements would look better as "No, not necessarily, but it sure helps" and "Yes, but the high road is longer than you think" – Stian Yttervik Mar 17 at 16:07
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No, but you do have to be confident, assertive, and able to promote yourself.

The reason arrogant people seem to get ahead is that they are OVERCONFIDENT, AGRESSIVE, and EGOCENTRIC

Those are often mistaken for the virtues I mentioned.

What you don't see is that they tend to burn bridges, overpromise and undeliver, accumulate enemies, and eventually get burned out if not pushed out.

In contrast, I like to get work done, and not make a big deal about it. I also like to have a balanced view and do not make situations sound better than they are.

This is where you fall down.

You may be getting the work done, but does anyone know what you do? If you're not bragging about it, probably not. Now, a bit of bragging is a good thing, because it's just letting people know what you do.

Wow, we nearly had a system crash yesterday, but I found out what was causing the trouble and I stepped and fixed it before it could do damage.

There's nothing wrong with making a big deal about something that is a big deal.

I also like to have a balanced view and do not make situations sound better than they are.

Why not make things sound better? A bit of optimism is a morale boost, it also helps you to set goals. If you project mediocre results, you'll get them, if you push things to a bit more optimistic view, you not only project that optimism on others, you're seen as a "can do" type of person, and also you are setting higher standards for yourself as well.

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    great point about arrogance being mistaken for confidence and why it fails in the long run – aw04 Mar 15 at 20:11
  • +1 for "If you project mediocre results, you'll get them." – Austin Hastings Mar 15 at 20:36
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    Mistaken for? To me those qualities are the same, only a difference of degree. – Vandermonde Mar 16 at 13:48
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    @Vandermonde a difference of degree is a difference. Thus, not the same. – user87779 Mar 16 at 16:36
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One thing I've seen in my career is that you do need to take time to promote yourself a bit. It isn't ideal, and it's not really in companies' best interests to rely on it, but they do. Managers can't be reliably counted on to just know your contributions and reward you accordingly, so you need to take time to discuss projects you're working on and their impact for the your team and if possible for the company.

If your company has periodic reviews, then that is a great time to review these things and highlight what you've been doing. Having somewhat regular 1 on 1 conversations with your boss is another great way to do it.

For example, if hypothetically someone wanted to be promoted to senior engineer, then document important contributions such as taking initiative and being responsible for projects. Basically, write something up demonstrating past work that matches what a senior engineer does and use them as justification for being ready to do that work all of the time, make it known that that person wants the promotion, and see where the conversation goes.

Nobody likes shameless self-promotion, and a lot can be done just by having one on one conversations and letting your boss(es) know what you want. Obviously the previous example can be adjusted for whatever promotion is wanted, for a raise, or whatever. All in all it's a balancing act, but you need to promote yourself a bit or you probably won't get what you deserve.

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I can't give you a definitive answer to this question, but I can give you two (opposed) answers from my own career:

(1) My boss, who had been asking me what I've accomplished each week, quit. Now no one was asking me that question. About two months later I was fired because "I wasn't doing any work". But not only was I doing everything I had done before, I also did a little bit of the things my boss did. But no one knew about it, and they assumed the worst.

(2) At another job, once a year, I scheduled a meeting with the VIP's and told them what I had accomplished in the last year. They loved me.

Also, it has been my experience that often you will be convicted and punished without anyone ever asking for your side of the story. Perhaps you will never know what it is you supposedly did to warrant that. It's easier for them to just drop the axe on someone then it is to get into a discussion about it.

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Executive summary:

  • Lying about your achievements is obviously wrong--don't do that.
  • Consider that maybe your colleague deserves some of the recognition he's getting.
  • Don't worry about your colleague or how he's doing "better than you".
  • There's still nothing wrong with marketing yourself a little better as long as you don't compromise your principles.

First, let's talk about your colleague

A colleague of mine is very good at PR and branding himself and does this by communicating to the whole world his successes no matter how small they are. He does this in a very arrogant way, by making it sound like he has achieved this, and often puts an overly positive spin, masking the reality of the situation which is often not ideal.

...

The trouble is, he is now getting ahead by mingling with important people and is being invited to important events...

Sounds like his career is starting to take off. He's leveraged his accomplishments (real or imaginary) to "climb the corporate ladder" to the point where he is mingling with the important people as you say.

Perhaps he is being arrogant to the point of misrepresenting the facts, as you say, or maybe he's just really good at putting a positive spin on his accomplishments and networking. Without specific examples, it's not easy for me, an internet stranger, to say. If he is indeed "masking the reality of the situation" as you say he is, you already know that that strategy can't work in the long-term. If you continue in a cycle of lying, you're bound to trip over yourself eventually.

But there's also a possibility he might actually have accomplished something here and his newfound recognition is deserved. Keep in mind that you almost certainly don't see everything from your point of view.

Now let's talk about you

In contrast, I like to get work done, and not make a big deal about it. I also like to have a balanced view and do not make situations sound better than they are.

...I am starting to feel like I am being left behind.

If I can offer you a single piece of advice for future success and happiness, it would be this: Don't compare yourself to other people! There will always be someone in your life that you think has it better than you do, and perhaps they don't truly deserve it (or maybe they do). That's not your concern. You'll only make yourself miserable thinking about it. Getting caught in these thought vortexes is not healthy or productive.

It sounds like you get fulfillment out of getting the job done, and getting it right. That's terrific! Focus on doing things right and producing quality output. You may not experience a meteoric rise to rockstardom, but people will notice.

Finally, the answer to your main question

I am starting to feel I need to become more like him, blow my trumpet after every little success, but I really don't want to do so. I find this egotistical.

Can you get ahead in the corporate world without being 'arrogant' and acting with an over inflated ego?

You don't need to be an egotist or a liar to be successful, but there's nothing wrong with learning from what has helped your colleague without compromising your standards. You might need to think about promoting yourself a little more, without lying, of course. For me, this meant learning to focus on the positives a little more.

In morning standup meetings, I used to make the mistake on focusing too much on what went wrong yesterday and how much I was struggling. I found this was eroding management's confidence in my ability to do my work when that really wasn't the issue at all, I was just focusing too much on the negatives, without presenting what I was planning to do to resolve them. So instead, I started saying things like, "I ran into trouble with [X] issue yesterday, but today I'm planning on trying approach [Y] and [Z] to resolve the issue." That gave management insight into the fact that there was a problem, but also that I had a good idea of what to do to fix it. And when I didn't have a good solution, it turned into a discussion where someone would help me find a better approach. This hasn't made me wildly successful, but it has drastically improved my relationship with management and helped us understand each other a little more. And when I finally completed something, management already knew that the work that I put in was quality work, because they were part of it.

For you, it might be a different application, but I think the lesson is the same. There's nothing wrong with "selling yourself" as long as you're telling the truth.

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This will obviously vary depending on your industry, location, and the people you work with.

In my short time working I've moved up very quickly and I've told all my college friends this:

All I did was work hard and the hard work was noticed. Stepping out of your comfort zone was a big help for me. Ever heard "dress for the job you want and not the job you have?".

What your seeing could be this guy being a little bit of a over the top, but it could also be you seeing him step outside of your comfort zone and therefore it seems odd.

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No, but you need to communicate your skills and value properly

When I'm job hunting I'm always very eager to promote myself, my experience, achievements, skills, personal characteristics, etc. Without lying, I present the best picture possible of myself in relation to the job I'm looking for.

I don't believe this is arrogance. The recruiter or manager needs this information if they're gonna hire me, so I'm doing us both a favor. Going around blabbering about my achievements with no practical utility to it would more likely be described as arrogance (unless you are networking, in which case it does have a practical utility but obviously then you need to use normal social intelligence and caution)

So when you're searching for work, you're not doing it out of arrogance, you're simply advertising yourself and your value. This is a normal part of professional life, do not fear it.

The danger of trying to to humble down in such processes is that you may omit to inform people of your skills, experience, etc, which is vital information to them. I'd say it's more important to make sure you communicate all that than to worry about being arrogant. Of course, it's good to have a serious tone and to refrain from language and tone that will be seen as simple bragging. If you keep your tone and language professional, the information you convey about your credentials will be recieved even better by the recruiter, manager or people you are networking with.

Also, outside of job interviews and other settings where such things are explicitly called for, apply normal social intelligence and don't talk too much about your value unless it falls naturally during the course of conversation.

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At one of my workplaces I came across this quiz. The "right" answer to all of these was "false".

An Opening Quiz: True or False?

  • Good work is always noticed & appropriately rewarded
  • You manager knows everything you do, no help needed
  • If you have to explain your work, it doesn’t “count”
  • If you have to ask for rewards, they aren’t satisfying
  • Modesty on your self-evaluation is a virtue
  • Taking credit for your work is a disservice to “the team”

It is in your best interests to facilitate a fair evaluation by clarifying accomplishments & impact and putting them in context

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In the end brashness, arrogance and pushing yourself up by pushing others down (they often go together) are generally found out.

But you still have to be able to sell yourself. You can and should do that without being over the top, but you still have to do it.

In my own career I believe I contributed and produced, but still at times fell behind (in rank and recognition) those who sold themselves better. I'm not talking about inventing accomplishments or over-stating. I'm talking basics here: good work is not automatically seen, let alone recognized.

It may be a little uncomfortable putting yourself out there, but it's vital.

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