Monday, September 22, 2008

Has Your Confidence Turned Into Arrogance?

As we can all witness after the latest debacle on Wall Street, there are plenty of big egos when it comes to big business.

A picture is emerging of decision-makers who have reaped millions of dollars in in compensation and benefits as their companies went down the toilet. Now, of course, Congress is getting involved, and those big egos are going to be aired -- and criticized -- in public.

Most of us will tut-tut their behavior ("Those greedy bastards," we'll grouse), and some of us will even learn a thing or two from their bad personal and professional judgment. Unfortunately, many of us will go back to behaving just as we always have -- as the same kind of arrogant beings intent on achieving our own ends through our own means.

Don't get me wrong. I know that confidence is needed in the working world. Without it, you'll get run over and be nothing but career roadkill. But there comes a point -- and I think this is it -- when we need to all take a hard look at how we go about getting what we want.

In other words, has your confidence turned into arrogance?

My dictionary defines arrogant as: "Overly convinced of one's own importance; overbearingly proud; haughty." Now, contrast that with the definition of confidence: "A feeling of assurance or certainty."

We all know those who are arrogant in the workplace. We don't really like them. We don't want to be on teams with them because they believe they are walking books of knowledge on just about any subject, and they rarely listen to anyone but themselves. They believe that just by showing up, success will follow.

But recognizing that arrogance in ourselves may be tougher. We believe we have earned the right to our views, and don't have time to suffer fools. We are impatient with others who don't seem to "get it" and wonder why they don't understand our talent is special and unique. We don't think we are arrogant, just confident.

I can't predict what the outcome of this Wall Street bailout will be, because I'm not an economist. But I can tell you that with the closer scrutiny of leadership behavior in the coming months, it's going to trickle down to all parts of the business sector. There is going to be less tolerance, I believe, of arrogance.

That's why today I'm hoping to save you some pain in the coming months. I challenge you to think about whether your confidence has turned into something more damaging. I urge you to think about not how you see yourself -- but how others see you. Do your actions really align with who you are and where you want to go?

Think about:

* Listening. Do you brush over others' opinions, or not ask for them at all? Even the most confident person values ideas from other people, but the arrogant worker believes he/she has all the answers.
* Admitting mistakes. Arrogance doesn't leave any room for acknowledging an error; pride prevents learning anything from a mistake. Those with enough confidence to own up to a mistake not only earn more respect from others, they gain useful insight on avoiding the problem in the future.
* Reaching back. When you have confidence, you're not afraid to help train or educate workers with less knowledge or skill. You see it as a chance to enhance the overall product or effort. If you're arrogant, you see it as a waste of time to work with those less skilled than you (which takes in almost everyone).
* You believe your own press. You're mentioned in company newsletters as a star performer, the boss recognizes you in meetings for your contributions and if you Google your name -- whoo boy! You start to rest on your laurels, believing your touch to be golden. While that is certainly a boost to your confidence, and should be enjoyed, you need to remember that your career success can often rest on a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. That's why it's important to make sure you interact often with people who disagree with you -- or don't even like you. They'll keep that ego from heading into arrogance.

What are some other signs of arrogance?


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Monday, February 4, 2008

The Role of Good Looks On The Job

While women often complain that they are judged in the workplace by the way they look, the truth is that we may be our own worst enemies.

According to a new book, "Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined," author Gordon L. Patzer says that research shows that even when a woman is alone, what she is wearing can "heighten her preoccupation with how her body looks -- usually at the expense of her critical mental performance skills."

So, that means it's not just the approaching swimsuit season that has us anxious and wondering how we can grow six inches by June, it's the day-to-day judgment of ourselves that is just as problematic.

How many of us have checked out our "rear view" in the bathroom mirror at work, or tried to catch our reflection in an office window to see if the new pants make us look fat? How many times have we asked a female co-worker: "Does my hair look OK?"

This constant checking of our physical appearance -- even the tugging of a skirt or adjusting of a strap -- diverts our mental energies, "making the individual temporarily unavailable for more challenging or vital mental tasks."

Still, Patzer goes on to point out that our obsession with our physical appearance has merit: Good looking people in the workplace are more likely to get desired jobs, be paid more and have higher-level positions. And while men don't have the obsession of always checking their physical appearance, they are affected by something else: height.

Patzer says that men standing over 5 feet 9 inches are perceived as better performers, get more promotions and earn more. In fact, according to one study, every inch over this height means an annual paycheck bonus of $789.

At the same time, looks in the workplace can become even more complex as we have a younger generation that has been more exposed to visual images throughout their lives, and are more focused with how they -- and others -- look. At the other end, aging workers are becoming more sensitized to their fading looks and diminished attractiveness in a youth-obsessed culture.

The hard reality, then, is that this "lookism" as Patzer calls it, isn't going to go away anytime soon. At the same time, he maintains that even if you're not the next Carmen Electra or Brad Pitt, "you're not defenseless."

"Don't do nothing," he told me in an interview.

So, while you may not want to undertake cosmetic procedures to improve your looks, you can do other things that will improve your physical appearance, or at least the "perception" that you're good looking. Some ideas:

* Practice good hygiene. Shower every day, use anti-perspirant and wear clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Make sure your hair is clean and well groomed.
* Update your wardrobe. Nothing can make you seem older or frumpier than clothes that are out of style. If nothing else, invest in black pants and a blue shirt with nice black shoes. This works well for men or women. Invest in tailoring to make sure they fit attractively.
* Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep not only affects your mental capabilities, but affects the healthy look of your skin and hair. Not getting your rest will also cause you to put on unwanted pounds.
* Eat right. A good diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, will take years off your face and help keep skin clear and bright.
* Take public speaking classes. Being able to present yourself with confidence, to speak clearly and have a well-modulated voice will boost the perception of your attractiveness. Standing and walking with confidence, as well as using hand gestures properly will help others to see you as better looking.
* Get more education. The more schooling you have, the higher others will perceive your status, and therefore, your looks.

While these suggestions may bother some people, the truth is that improving our physical appearance should be seen as just another tool to getting the career we want. Ignoring your appearance could be just as costly as not improving your skills or completing that big project on time.


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