Many offices have employees with varying personalities. A few of them are:
- The naysayers, who love shooting down ideas and finding fault in every suggestion brought up during meetings or discussions
- The reticent employees, who prefer to keep their mouth shut and work in peace at their cubicle
- The friendly achievers (or rockstar employees), who encourage workplace camaraderie and push every member of the team to get everything done on time and in good quality
- The know-it-alls, who believe deep down that they’re smarter and better than everybody else in the room (even if it’s not true)
This article will be focusing on the know-it-alls — employees with an oversized ego and larger-than-life personalities. These workers typically have a superiority complex.
Superiority Complex: An Overview
The term “superiority complex” is a behavior indicating that an individual believes they’re head and shoulders above the rest. People who have this complex often carry exaggerated opinions about themselves. An employee with an intellectual superiority complex, for instance, may think that they have the highest IQ in the workplace.
Also, people with a superiority complex may believe that their achievements and abilities surpass those of others.
What Causes a Superiority Complex?
Superiority complexes may be due to deep-rooted insecurities. Alfred Adler, a psychologist, first described this type of complex in his 20th century work. He outlined that superiority complex serves as the body’s defense mechanism for feelings of inadequacy.
People with this particular complex usually carry about an air of superiority to people around them. This, however, is merely a way to conceal feelings of shortcomings or failures. When someone has a superiority complex, people describe these feelings of superiority as narcissistic, grandiose and arrogant.
Is Superiority Complex a Bad Thing?
Superiority complex, in and of itself, isn’t automatically a bad thing — but when it becomes a way of behaving, emoting and thinking, it can negatively affect a person’s life. The nonstop exaggerations and compensations produce conflict, irritation, arguments and distance in relationships. People usually stay away from individuals struggling with the complex.
Superiority complexes create various behavioral problems, which can prevent the people suffering from this complex to connect with others fully. Those who do not receive proper help could end up feeling lonely.
What are the Signs of Superiority Complex?
Working with — or worse, for — someone with a superiority complex can make your life difficult. People with a superiority complex may have arrogant attitudes. These toxic behaviors, combined with other personal life stressors and work demands, could burn you out.
Unfortunately, there is a good probability that you will encounter this complex in a colleague or boss at some point in your career. After all, the workplace’s competitive nature can naturally push people to look out for themselves. This competitiveness, sadly, can bring out the worst in people.
So, how do you know that you’re staring face to face with a person carrying superiority complex traits and not just a healthy dose of assertiveness and confidence?
Watch out for these red flags:
They Prefer Things to Stay Under Control
If you’re around an individual with a superiority complex and you don’t behave the way they expect, they get mean. They like feeling in control.
People with a superiority complex typically strive for leadership roles at work. When they become a supervisor or manager, they act in ways that make their direct reports cower in fear rather than respect the person in authority.
They Have a Sense of Entitlement
Those with a superiority complex carry this sense of entitlement that makes them think that others are beneath them, whether it be intellectually, socially, economically or financially. An example of employee entitlement is viewing company privileges, such as flexible schedule, as rights.
When these people were still kids, they likely got everything they wanted or requested. Their parents would do their best to make sure that their child was happy. If the kid doesn’t get what they want, they’ll throw a tantrum.
The bottom line of this red flag is that individuals with a superiority complex have learned early on that they can treat anyone however they want to get what they want in life.
They Come Off as Self-Centered
A person with a superiority complex tends to make things revolve around them. They may challenge people’s ideas and beliefs in a way that makes them look like they know all the right answers.
What’s worse, they may attempt to devalue the achievements of others by one-upping them with their list of accomplishments. If a co-worker, for instance, did an amazing job during the presentation, the individual with the complex might remark something along the lines of, “Your presentation skills weren’t terrible, but I noticed that the audience was listening to me more during my session.”
They’re Prone to Sudden Changes in Mood
People with a superiority complex often have to juggle their contradictory “personalities,” which could result in extreme mood swings. They may sometimes go from feeling completely inferior to convincing themselves that they’re best among the rest. Given this, you won’t be able to anticipate how they are going to behave.
They Like Comparing Themselves to Other People
Individuals with a superiority complex base their self-worth off other people. They tend to compare themselves to the people around them. Their subconscious is telling them that they’re lacking in a certain area or not good enough.
They Don’t Like Taking Accountability for Their Mistakes
Those who are flaunting an air of superiority are unable to take responsibility for their errors, as this will contradict their false identity. When a person isn’t at peace or unhappy with who they are, they tend to hide behind a “perfect” copy of themselves. This version is what they think people will love.
Owning up to your screw-ups means realizing that you’re not perfect. A person with a superiority complex won’t do this, as it’s going to ruin the illusion of perfection. An example is an employee who refuses to admit their wrongdoing at a project or task. They would go as far as blaming others — or their boss — to avoid accountability.
They Seek Validation Constantly
A person with a superiority complex attributes their sense of self-worth from external sources. They will only feel worthy or good enough if others see them as much.
Sadly, one validation comment won’t sustain them. They’ll crave for more, as they won’t be happy with themselves for too long.
How to Handle People with a Superiority Complex
Co-workers with a superiority complex can annoy a lot of people, especially when they waltz in the office, tout their latest accomplishment (which may be an exaggeration) and bask in the validation of others.
How can you handle such arrogance? Here are tips to help you handle that co-worker who constantly gets under your skin:
Keep Your Cool
Feeling irritated is normal when someone talks down on you because they think that they’re the most intelligent human being in the office. Rather than engage in a yelling match, pick a time when you’re feeling calm and in control of your feelings and thoughts.
Once you’re calm, speak with them privately about their attitude at the workplace. Explain how some of their comments or behaviors in the office make you (or the other employees) feel. Try to reach a compromise if you can.
Present Factual Information During Meetings
During a team or group meeting, your arrogant co-worker may try to one-up you — or worse — criticize your work performance. You could prepare for these “attacks” by doing your homework. Defend yourself by stating sources and facts to back up your points.
Cut Down Your Time Together and Keep Things Focused
Even if you possess the inner peace of Po from Kung-Fu Panda, you may still feel some annoyance with arrogant co-workers. You are still human, after all. If you have to work Smarty McBrags-a-Lot, do your best to keep your interactions short.
If you’re working on a project, for instance, think about what needs to be done when you meet Then, set an agenda. This way, there’s less chance of wandering off-topic and running behind schedule.
If your co-worker tends to pop in at your work and tell you how awesome they are, close your door. When they persist, be direct and establish clear boundaries.
Working with colleagues who have a superiority complex can make your life seem like a nightmare. Don’t fret, though. Focus on yourself and your work, keep a cool head and limit your time with the know-it-alls in your office.