Clarity not Arrogance

I was talking with a friend who mentioned that people often think of him as arrogant. I was surprised to hear this, because he is someone who has always seemed humble (although not without confidence) and keen to better himself and get feedback as part of the process.

Then it dawned on me. Maybe the “arrogance” was a perception of how he drives clarity in a conversation!

Immediately I saw the same pattern with some other friends and acquaintances. They share some common traits and perceptions:

They are polarizing

People tended to either love or dislike the manner of how they worked and interacted. It was rarely grey, which is actually probably not all bad in that Elie Wiesel wisely said “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Black and white

They have a super power to take a complex problem and hunt for a clear black and white view. Being able to find the poles and quickly choose paths keeps the ball moving quickly (with the side effect of making some wrong calls).

Taking over a meeting

Have you ever had meetings that don’t go well? (I have written about this from time to time). Half the time you wonder why you are having the meeting (am I right!).

One of the Laws Of Meetings is that their length expands to fill the meeting time allocated (if not beyond, just as a gas will expand to fill its container)

Have you ever had someone jump in to a meeting and take charge?

“Guys, we are here to answer the question ‘X’. If we posit that Y and Z are true, can’t we make the decision to go ahead right away?”

When that happens (as long as they are making sense) it makes you think “THANK YOU”. Well, that isn’t always shared…. some seem to take that as a sign of arrogance.


Interestingly, the people I see with these tendencies also crave feedback and are looking to continually push themselves forward. They read veraciously, love the checklist manifesto, are full of a growth mindset. When I normally think of arrogant people, I don’t think of them as pushing themselves in this way, although I guess this notion is very orthogonal.

In fact, what is arrogance again:

“An insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people”

When you think “man, Bob is arrogant” is you looking at actions and mapping them to “because of these actions, I think this person thinks that they are ….”.


It all comes down to clarity. In Corporate America we are taught to be “nice”. Not to delve info conflict. Be TEAM PLAYERS. However, being superficially nice doesn’t make you a team player, it makes you somewhat of a liar.

There are different ways to behave and communicate. There is no reason to be overly harsh and behave badly.

I crave clarity though. When I read about Jony Ive and his design team, and how many of them stayed together for so many years which allowed them to get past ego, I am jealous.

I get to work with amazing people, some of which across multiple companies at this point, and I love getting to the point where title doesn’t matter, ideas and data matter. We respect each other and know that the respect is mutual, and this trust means that we can focus on breaking through issues.

Now, when I think that someone is arrogant, I am going to take a look into why I think that, look inside myself to see if there are reasons why I am being self conscious, and then go from there ☺

One of my problems though is that I often live in the grey, which is why I work well with those that can balance and push me.


As I was searching around on the topic I found that Richard Dawkins had a quote:

‘Undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance.’

So, I feel like I am good company.

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