When Expertise Becomes Arrogance
Relationships work—or don’t work—for a whole host of reasons. You can be assured, however, that as soon as your ‘expertise’ becomes arrogance, communication with the people you’re trying to influence will stop. Arrogance is a death knell to the establishment of healthy corporate cultures and vendor relationships.
This point has been driven home a number of times throughout my career. I vividly remember working with a branding expert for months to develop a new look and feel for our company. His work seemed to stall out at a number of points along the way. In the end, he developed a font—well actually a partial font since it consisted of only 4 characters—for the company name. He gave us one option, and frankly it didn’t hit the mark with respect to most of the elements we thought our brand needed to convey.
Know it all’s don’t actually know it all. They know less because they refuse to embrace new things.
Granted, the ‘mark’ is only one aspect of the brand, but it’s an important one. To be given a single option because the designer thought he knew best was highly insulting to a group of marketing veterans that have re-branded more than a dozen companies. The designer refused to give us more options. That incident ended the relationship.
Another indication that your ego and expertise have transitioned into arrogance is when you insist that you just want the best for the client. You repeatedly push the client to reconsider something you’ve suggested in his or her best interest. Maybe the client thinks there aren’t enough resources to explore the option you’re proposing. Or, maybe you’re vision deviates from the clients’ own vision. At a certain point, you’ve got to stop pushing for what you want and listen openly to the client’s needs. Well, you only have to listen more openly if you want the relationship to continue.
The arrogance/expertise syndrome is hard at work in corporations across America. I remember onboarding into a new company about 12 years ago. The COO insisted that I needed to teach project management to some of his managers. Rather than getting to know these people and the conditions in which they worked, I let my experience and ego take the drivers’ seat. Yeah. I was not very popular. For good reason.
It turns out, the managers I was supposed to ‘coach’ had exceptional project and budget management skills. The COO couldn’t see that his managers’ approaches were not only valid, they were highly effective. These two women produced some of the best outcomes in the company when given the latitude to manage projects and departments their way. The good news: I realized rather quickly the COO had completely misread their capabilities. I backed off and we became friends. We still are. And, I learned an important lesson. Don’t let someone else assess the qualities and capabilities of other people for you.
So… if you’re noticing a pattern in client or employee relationships where people just aren’t taking (or seeming to appreciate) your advice and you push harder, it’s time to let up on the gas pedal and truly listen to what the other people have to say. Assuming that you’re being ethical, there’s no wrong or right way to do business. You can make things a lot easier by sharing your expertise in a constructive way that meets clients or employees somewhere in the middle. Know it all’s don’t actually know it all. If your corporate culture needs a boost, it just might be a signal that you need to sit back and listen more.