The Two Most Destructive Attitudes: Resentment and Arrogance
Dr. Cory Dobbs, The Academy for Sport Leadership
Parents, teachers, coaches, and managers, all invest a great deal of time trying to instill attitudes they consider appropriate. The central role of each of these leaders is to guide those they lead to adopt, modify, and deploy relevant ways of thinking—which includes forming attitudes that influence desired behavior. The opposite happens as well; a great deal of time and effort is spent to correct or punish the behaviors that result from inappropriate attitudes. To the extent that leaders are able to construct preferred attitudes will determine the health of the individuals, team, and organization.
Behavior and Attitudes
Creating an environment in which trust and respect are paramount, where healthy and inspirational relationships flourish, is vital to success in today’s environment. To create this culture requires an understanding of the nuances of attitudes. An attitude is the spontaneous interplay of preexisting emotions and integrated assumptions. Furthermore, attitudes result from the neural activity of the brain, such that the “cells that fire together wire together” creating a habit of mind. And assumptions are mental models that provide structure to the sense making process. Together they generate emotional and cognitive cues that impulsively (they can agitate a person to act faster than the speed of sound) lead to behavior. In a sense, then, an attitude has two distinct fibers weaving it together.
An attitude has an immediate and enduring influence on how we see, think, feel, and what we do. And the sobering reality is that an attitude (such as “I don’t care,” or “Why are you picking on me?”) can construct itself indiscriminately with little regard to whether it is helpful, useful, neutral, or harmful. If you stop and think about it, an attitude begins as an invisible entity—an emotion or assumption embedded in the brain—that progresses into a subjective experience in which one’s perception of a person, object, or event is greatly shaped, and greatly shapes the actions one takes.
And that’s true for both positive and negative attitudes. However, despite what most people think, we (yes, you and me) struggle to “grasp” our own predisposition for holding a certain attitude. As irrational actors, we are often unaware of how our attitudes impact those residing in our outside world. Often, transgressions are small and seemingly insignificant. But they aren’t. Collateral damage abounds with disagreement, disconnection, and disengagement. Over time, attitudes harden and the relational participants become antagonistic toward each other. The hidden costs are many.
Let me unveil the two most destructive attitudes. They are resentment (“I won’t forgive or forget,” and “apologizing is not for me”) and arrogance (“You’re not worthy” and “I want what I want”). Stop for a moment and think about these two pillars of negativity. Imagine a close friend revealing resentment toward her boss. Not difficult to do. Let’s say she is asked to work overtime—and everyone else is allowed to leave early. The thoughts and feelings produced by the immediate feedback that encompasses resentment quickly wires neural circuits ensuring the brain has recorded this incident.
Your friend has now created an attitude of resentment toward her boss (and likely the boss resents the attitude of the worker too). Whenever they are in the same room, the memory of the previous “injustice” has the potential to emerge giving energy and power to an internal state of resentment. If another incident happens, it will only amplify the initial event. What makes this especially unnerving is how automatically it happens. Moreover, both parties will ultimately find out that lingering resentment is emotionally damaging and that life at work will never be the same.
And arrogance, well ego-involvement is simply a part of athletics. We all have the need to feel worthy, but the person with an unhealthy sense of self—selfish and self-centered—usually has a tough time when it comes to emotional competencies. They are unaware of how others’ respond to their actions as they yearn to be the center of attention.
The trouble is that arrogance makes the individual a pawn to their emotions. The challenge for the arrogant person is that they must protect and promote themselves at the same time. For example, if they have the need to be seen as confident in order to feel worthy, they will protect themselves (“save face”) from a threat to their competence, and feel compelled to put others down while building themselves up. The more arrogant the actor, the less room there is for others.
To the extent that the arrogant person is driven by impulses to protect and promote their self-concept, they will perceive others as less worthy than themselves—this self-serving bias is rooted in one’s upbringing. Yes, it is the job of the ego to give us a sense of who we are and where we belong—a social compass with which to define and affirm our individual and collective identity. But the attitude of superiority ultimately prevents the arrogant individual from fully developing a healthy ego and an accurate view of self. For the arrogant, life is a roller coaster ride.
Okay, time to take action. You have work to do. Write down on a sheet of paper (old school) these two attitudes. Describe in bullet points each concept as you have seen others deploy these attitudes. Seriously, take ten minutes to “study” resentment and arrogance in greater detail by reflecting on your experiences with others. Then invest another ten minutes assessing how you can improve yourself by challenging and changing these destructive attitudes realizing you are not immune to them.
Won’t forgive “You’re not worthy” (Self-centered))
Won’t forget “I want what I want” (Selfish)