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The blur between arrogance and ignorance

Arrogance is a personality trait characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, superiority, and a lack of empathy or consideration for others. Arrogant individuals tend to have an inflated sense of their own abilities, achievements, or worth, and may display a dismissive or condescending attitude towards others. They often believe that they are more deserving of attention, praise, or special treatment, which can lead to difficulties in relationships, communication, and collaboration. Arrogance can also manifest as a refusal to accept feedback, an inability to admit mistakes, and a propensity to belittle or demean others.

Ignorance is the state of being uninformed, unaware, or lacking knowledge or understanding about a particular subject or concept. It is the absence of information or comprehension, which can be due to a lack of exposure, education, or experience. Ignorance can be general or specific, depending on the topic or situation. People may be ignorant about certain things because they have not had the opportunity or resources to learn about them. Acknowledging one’s own ignorance can be a stepping stone to learning, growth, and personal development, as it helps to identify areas where more knowledge or understanding is needed.

The blur

So how can arrogance and ignorance blur into each other? A picture is worth a thousand words.

  1. Overconfidence: Arrogant individuals often overestimate their own abilities, knowledge, or understanding, which can lead to ignorance about their actual limitations or gaps in their knowledge. This overconfidence can result in making poorly informed decisions or providing inaccurate information to others. Alongside the arrogant attitude sits the ignorance.
  2. Bravado: This is blustering, swaggering conduct e.g. “I’m a dickhead! So (whateverrrr)
  3. Resistance to learning: Arrogance can make people resistant to accepting new information or perspectives, as they may believe they already know everything they need to know or that others’ opinions are inferior. This resistance can further perpetuate ignorance by preventing them from learning and growing. Therefore an arrogant attitude here is part and parcel of ignorance.
  4. Disregard for others’ expertise: Arrogant individuals may dismiss or belittle the knowledge or experience of others, even when those individuals may have more expertise in a given area. This disregard can lead to maintaining an ignorant stance on a subject, as they refuse to acknowledge or learn from the insights of others.
  5. Unwillingness to admit mistakes: Arrogance can make it difficult for people to admit when they are wrong or don’t know something, which can perpetuate ignorance. By refusing to acknowledge mistakes or gaps in knowledge, they may not take the necessary steps to correct their understanding or seek additional information.
  6. Dunning-Kruger effect: This cognitive bias refers to a phenomenon in which people with low ability or knowledge in a specific domain tend to overestimate their competence, while those with high ability tend to underestimate their competence. In this case, arrogance and ignorance intersect, as the person’s inflated sense of self-importance is coupled with a lack of awareness of their own limitations.

Situational examples

Real Life

A doctor introduces himself, his status qualifications and training as a UK qualified consultant psychiatrist with 20-odd years of experience. Apparently – that’s arrogant! How? I’ll be told that “Everybody knows s/he is a doctor, so no need to go on about it!

Following that, a patient’s relative asserts that severe hearing loss has caused their daughter’s learning disability. The proper UK qualified consultant psychiatrist asserts that hearing loss cannot cause learning disability. Relative insists! Psychiatrist re-asserts that that would mean that everybody with deafness would be learning disabled. Apparently – this means the psychiatrist is arrogant!

A junior nurse – about 4 years post-qualification – asserts repeatedly that learning disability is not a mental health problem, for a patient who is diagnosed by a psychiatrist with a “learning disability” – and for whom there is overwhelming evidence of seriously impaired intellectual performance from birth.

Fictional

An employee in his late twenties at Tesla, after one year, sends an email to Elon Musk to say that lithium is bad for the planet and that all production of Tesla cars with lithium batteries must stop immediately. He adds that Tesla vehicles are better off with three wheels instead of four on the grounds that there is too much pollution caused by rubber from the tyres from cars. Is that arrogance, ignorance or both? Should Elon Musk take his time to respond to such an email?

What does it mean?

It means that an arrogant attitude can at the same time be ignorant.

As teams of people are not perfect, one can expect some persons in a team to be more toward the arrogant side of the spectrum whilst some may be at the ignorant end of the spectrum. But there could be some individuals in a team who are both arrogant and ignorant at the same time. The obvious problem is that people who behave in these ways are unlikely to know how arrogant or ignorant they are. Why? Because they lack self-awareness and situational awareness.

Team managers need to be vigilant so as to direct attitudinal change.

Those who persist in their arrogant or ignorant attitudes, need to leave the team or be forced to leave by lawful processes.

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