Answering any of the questions below will help to discuss the premier question:
1 - What exactly is arrogance?
2 - How do you detect arrogance?
3 - Why some people become arrogant?
4 - Is it always bad?
If so, how do you avoid being arrogant?
I've also observed that there are generally two types of confidence: the brash, in-your-face type and the quiet, in-the-corner type. The point is not the type, the point is confidence. You need confidence in order to tackle problems, which might be wearing a mask of arrogance.
... but I'm not a psychologist, so take that with a heaping teaspoon of salt.
I've seen this borne out plenty of times. It can cause trouble when someone with this mindset doesn't realize that not everything is like software, and that 'moving fast and breaking things' in the wrong environment can waste lots of time and money.
Just because psychology or art are not defined in formulas that doesn't mean they're easy. Quite opposite: they're so diverse that it's impossible to formalize them into strict laws.
More diverse than the stars in the sky? It's a bit rich to suggest that psychology and art can't be formulated into strict laws. Pop music and advertising are some great examples.
As an example, I know practically nothing about psychology, having only taken a single intro semester of it at university. That said, from reading your post, I can already make the following claims:
You have a mass of 200kg ± 300kg.
You have a temperature of 310K ± 3K.
Your age is 60 years ± 55 years.
I'll let you pick any star in the sky. Can you tell me the mass, age, and temperature to the same accuracy?
We are all arrayed against the Dark Lord Entropy - humility and "measure twice, cut once" are nearly always in order.
And show your work.
From an appearance/soft-skills perspective, it is one possible mode of the assertion of social dominance based on skill/expertise. It is a more aggressive one, hence it is more likely to backfire. There are far better ways to assert social dominance based on skill/expertise which are more socially productive and far less prone to backfire.
From a mental functionality perspective, you're being arrogant when you are prone to false negatives when judging other people and their input and prone to false positives when judging your own.
how do you avoid being arrogant?
Humility. Spend time at the bottom of a learning curve. Truly take a deep dive into a different mental model of the world. Prove the null hypothesis. "If you're the smartest guy in the room, you're in the wrong room." If it's the case that no matter what you try, you can't ever find your way to a place where you're mistaken, you missed some big facet of reality, or you're a beginner again, then congrats: You Are Arrogant!
To me arrogance is conceited. It's assuming you're better than everyone else. It's assuming everyone else is worse than you, and making it shown.
Detecting arrogance is pattern-matching for multiple traits more than a single characteristic. Some examples that show arrogance:
- Thinking you always know best
- Similarly, thinking you're cleverer/funnier/N-er than everyone else
- Not listening or valuing others opinions
This can be verbal as well as non-verbal. Pretty much all of this boils down to two values: narcissism (self-conceit) and lack of respect.
Why people become arrogant is a tough, philosophical and behavioural question. Is it parenting? Is it consistent self-praise? Maybe not being challenged as a kid? It's hard to find a real answer. Sometimes people really excel at an early age and it might make them think they're better than everyone else. Then again, maybe the person didn't grow up to value other people in the right way.
And generally whether it's bad is a situational call IMO. It's bad if you don't have anything to back it up. Even if you're brilliant it's bad if you're a douche about it (and have no respect for others).
Could you blame Steph Curry for being arrogant about being (one of) the best shooter in history? Maybe not, but if he's a dick about it you probably won't like him.
And that's probably what encapsulates whether arrogance is bad: does it hinder your personal relationships — or your personal progression? If so, it's a bad trait. And I think that question can be asked of anything.
Some people below have posted great points in preventing arrogance. Part of the problem is ego: learn that other people do hard work and value them. Easier said than done. Assuming you're doing the easy part of a project is a good tip. Asking people about what they do and actually trying or taking interest in it is another. Working with smart people is even better, though it's not necessary — even not-so-smart people do tough jobs that people might not value.
The problem is that a person with a healthy ego will always come off as negative to some people, because that person won't shy away from confrontation the same way that the humbler majority will. I prefer words like "hubris" which better target identifiable personality defects.
That said, being needlessly confrontational over things that are personally emotional is a good way to get called arrogant. Another thing that people don't like is expression or allusion to a belief that people deserve to be in whatever social class they're in.
A good preventative antidote is to adopt a service mindset. It's hard for people to form negative opinions about people that are always being helpful. I love reading about butlers for this reason, a butler has to embody the service mindset without being humble. This juxtaposition itself is the fodder for an entire genre of books.
Another excellent historical account of the servant class, this time in England, is this gem:
I have not actually read any of the butler novels that I mentioned but the one I hear mentioned every time this topic comes up is The Inimitable Jeeves:
Articles crop up from time to time about modern butlery, which is enjoying a renaissance as Chinese billionaires search for ever more gaudy ways to spend their vast fortunes, like this recent GQ piece:
I myself can come off as arrogant sometimes, and believe me it's always involuntary.
Online I've taken to reading everything I type and trying to imagine reading it from another persons perspective. That way I often throw away comments before posting them.
In real life it's much harder because it often takes me a long pause before I can answer someone, that pause is filtering out unnecessary arrogance and "snide".
And yes, they're always much people better than you.
Three principles i live by
- Everyone lives in a reality were they are the hero - the smart, clever individual who got perfect reasons to do something and was misunderstood if something went wrong. Let them be this hero or you will be the villain.
- The root of every problem around you is ultimately you, yourself. You should have either fixed it, helped fixing it or avoided it. Blame the next person just delays this.
- We judge our own intellect with our own intellect. We cannot even understand how stupid we are (esp. in specific areas that are not interesting to us). Assume the worst in your own case and you are on the safe side.
...have you ever read anything by this guy?
So far I have never met a truly intelligent person who questioned another person's cleverness. People who impressed me usually only questioned context, environment and background of that "stupid" person.
(same goes for [negative] arrogance)
I've observed this in myself as well as countless others - on way up the learning curve you think yourself an expert and become arrogant about it right before you realise that in fact the computing industry (and probably applies to many other industries too) is so complex that it's likely impossible for a single person to understand everything.
Thus, for some people, a good way to combat arrogance is to gently teach them things they don't know - which will hopefully lead them to understand that we all have much to learn. It certainly worked for me.
Arrogance can be perceived as an offensive display of superiority. We can have straight forward manifestations of arrogance but also comes in a disguised or cloaked form.
2. How do you detect arrogance?
If it's straight forward it is easy. But sometimes is well concealed behind actions, irony or even gentle words. I believe that we detect (or display for the matter) arrogance from a set of behavioral traits more than anything else.
3. Why some (we?) people become arrogant?
Because we are not wise.-
The Socratic paradox goes like "I know one thing: that I know nothing". Socrates believed that he is the wisest man in Athens because he knows that he does not know while others falsely believe that they know. Pythia (the famous oracle of Ancient Greece) confirms that Socrates is the wisest man in Athens.
What Socrates was trying to say gets a lot clearer by Aristotle a couple of decades later, when he writes "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.". Shakespeare in 1603 A.D. in As you like it writes one of my favorite rhymes: "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
Combining all the above, we can say that smart doesn't make wise. Wisdom comes through experience and careful unselfish study. Smart is good, shiny but can get us easily out of our way. Wisdom is what we should be aim at.
Then the question becomes: What is wisdom? And Socrates replies "The act of making wise decisions". Which decisions are wise? "The ones that do not hurt your spirit". Socrates believes - like Christ- that even if actively attacked, we should avoid attacking-back because it will ultimately cause us anger and hurt our pure spirit. Socrates says that every human has the obligation to keep his spirit as pure as possible: no anger, no fights, no fears, etc.
4. Is it always bad?
Yes. It is always bad.
5. If so, how do you avoid being arrogant?
See answer No 3.
I suppose people may differ as to whether arrogance that corresponds to actual excellence is more or less irritating than arrogance that corresponds to no actual excellence, but surely we've all seen it many times in cases where the arrogant person wasn't actually superior--or not superior enough to warrant their confidence.
I've come across both and only the first type is annoying. The second can first be mistaken as the first but then get to know them as being very enthusiastic and inexperienced (not knowing what they don't know).
Also confidence IMHO is a totally different thing and doesn't manifest itself the same way arrogance does.
For example saying: "My team is really good" displays confidence in your team, saying "We can beat the crap out of every other team easily" is arrogant, even if it's true.
Sometimes you think you're helping and sometimes you're actually helping but you're still making people feel bad about themselves.
YC recommended a nice book that can help you avoid being arrogant:
Non-violent communication: a language of life
Listen, no matter what, and make it a point to not interrupt.
This may or may not stop you from being arrogant, but it can avoid that perception, which is almost as good for group dynamics.
One thing I have found helpful is to repeat what was said to verify correct understanding, but this can easily be misinterpreted as insincere if done too often.
2 - Detecting arrogance in the self can be hard, but isolation is a good warning sign. If one finds oneself separate from the group, there can be a variety of factors, but check in your heart to see if arrogance is the cause first. To detect it in others, ask questions that deal with empathy and helping others.
3 - People can become arrogant if they are the "biggest fish in a small pond" for too long, and actually are the smartest person in the room for a while. This is one reason it's good to always put yourself in work and cultural situations that test the limits of your abilities and allow you to grow and teach simultaneously.
4 - Arrogance as commonly defined is probably always a "bad" trait, simply because it is anti-social, and an argument can be made that the only real ethical behavior is social behavior. That said, many many arrogant people have made significant contributions to society, but it's important to understand that their arrogance or anti-social behavior may have been a symptom of their brilliance, not the cause.
Others have no real reason to expect to be successful, having never experienced success in what they are attempting.
So to me, the best way to avoid arrogance is to take an honest assessment of your experience and whether you have actually experienced success in the arena you are attempting to enter, and if you can't point to past successes, don't speak as if you expect to succeed this time.
This is something that comes with age, I believe. As you get older you gain more experience, so you understand that success is difficult to achieve. This does not necessarily mean approaching things with a defeatist attitude, but rather to take a more comprehensive look at the challenges and not merely rely on your own unproven abilities and proceed accordingly.
So assured of your correctness that you'll ignore contrary information. A military type example would be to assume that your forces are so superior to the enemy that you ignore information about new countermeasures and send your troops to their death.
In programming or business terms, you could have a process that people assume is the right way to do everything in every situation who are unwilling to adapt to nuances.
A few relatable examples:
- Do everything in the database!
- Do everything in the application!
- Do everything in the client!
- Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM!
Usually the best way to detect it is to ask somebody holding hard to a point of view to explain it.
So IMO, the best way to explain arrogance would be delusion in combination with ability to act on it.
Arrogance is the presumption of competence where there is none.
> 2 - How do you detect arrogance?
If you have competence, it's fairly easy to detect incompetence in others. If you want to detect incompetence in yourself ... that's easy. Let yourself fail.
Arrogant people never expose themselves to the possibility of failure. In the rare circumstance when it does happen, they deny it. Anything else would pierce the veil of presumed competence.
Let yourself fail. Over and over again. Acknowledge the failure. Keep exposing yourself to new things and keep pushing outside your comfort zone. That will keep you nice and humble.
> 3 - Why some people become arrogant?
Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of being perceived as a failure.
> 4 - Is it always bad?
It is all about how one presents oneself. Are you open to new ideas? Do you treat other people not as morans that didn't think through their problem somewhat?
So yeah, pretty much your point about being humble.
Of course this advice assume you have already understood that 1) there is nothing to be gained but bad things by being arrogant and that 2) there is no reason to be arrogant.
I believe you can become arrogant by getting used to being the smartest person in the room (or believing you are), noticing the times you readily had insights that others lack, etc.. Confirmation bias plays in, too, since as soon as you start to conceive of yourself as knowing, unless you try very hard not to, you'll take more note of events that confirm your self-assessment than that disconfirm it.
As others have noted, arrogance as described here is closely akin to the vice of pride (which is opposed to the virtue of humility). The main distinction I would draw is that arrogance to me has a stronger social aspect--a particular way of presenting oneself, born from pride. Pride itself is a spiritual state and could (at least hypothetically) pass unnoticed if you were also good at hiding it.
I referred to confidence-out-of-proportion, and I think I stick with that. To my mind, a person who exhibits rational confidence in their judgement is not arrogant by definition, even if that confidence is (correctly) very high. But arrogance isn't the only way to go wrong. E.g., a software BDFL may be a jerk even if he's not arrogant, and someone who confidently makes a decision they had authority to make without consulting someone who would rather have been consulted isn't arrogant either, but may none the less have committed a faux pas. Both may be incorrectly perceived as or called arrogant.
"childish optimism that one can take on any challenge."
So is age the only differentiating criterion?
i.e. you aren't growing as a human being, you're static, and have become comfortable there in your little niche, so you look down on others who are learning new things.
when was the last time you felt dumb? been a while? fix that. most arrogant people are afraid of feeling dumb so they just dismiss things they aren't good at as beneath them.
Nerds often come out as arrogant by merely offering unsolicited advice or opinions. It doesn't matter if you actually do know what you think you know: you can still be arrogant even if you're right. This sort of arrogance is basically about stepping onto someone else's lawn.
For the general arrogance, I don't have answers. I haven't much felt the need for setting myself above others outside of a special context where I believe that my skills will benefit everybody so I'm not quite sure what's driving that.
For the nerdy arrogance, there's one thing I do: I usually negotiate responsibilities first before acting, i.e. I claim the territory before I pull out my tools.
If I've agreed with someone that I should take a look at fixing something, then I can rightfully and confidently exercise my knowhow myself because finding the solution has become my own territory. If it turns out to be a problem, I'll just return to negotiating: "I understood you wanted me to fix this so do you want me to continue or do you want to fix it yourself?" Conversely, if there is no agreement about territory I won't step in but just let them know they can contact me if they need me. I might know exactly how to fix something but I realise it's not my place until we've first cleared who's going to do what.
Also, getting into a debate with someone you don't know who actually does like debating, can easily be considered arrogant. Likewise there: while debating can be fun with the right person, however, most of the time with most people it isn't so I'll just skip that unless I specifically know the person.
Egos constantly need validation. In some people, this need results in certain annoying validation seeking behaviors. A few office examples are: constantly bringing attention to one's abilities or accomplishments, speaking to others in a condescending tone, putting others down, and failing to listen to others. I believe these sorts of validation seeking behaviors are what we collectively call arrogance.
> Is it always bad? If so, how do you avoid being arrogant?
Arrogance is when your ego gets in the way of your daily life. Arrogant people are too focused on themselves to notice that they are annoying others. This hinders their ability to communicate or receive correct information. This makes them less productive in a team environment and a pain to work with.
IMO The best way to avoid arrogance is to be mindful about your interactions with people. If you practice mindfulness and compassion in your daily interactions with others, you will find that people will enjoy interacting with you more. As your mindfulness skills develop, your skills in communication with others increase as well.
2 - Detecting arrogance in it's subtleties can tricky, but often times it's less subtle. A nice Star Wars linkage is 'only the Sith deal in absolutes'. Otherwise, you can detect when people avoid asking or answering questions that might allow other input.
3 - Some people probably become arrogant as a defense mechanism to being questioned. Often, by over compensating with confidence it can help you lead dictatorially. By being the loudest, most stubborn, and sometimes / most of the time right (to at least some degree) they will get their way by the passives in a group. More broadly speaking, arrogance is caused by a lack of perspective - an inability to perceive that someone else might bring ideas to the table or that you might be at all inadequate.
4 - Yes, it's always bad or at least not an admirable trait. Particularly when working with others. By being arrogant you will often miss different solutions that may be easier, quicker, more elegant, or better explained.
Everybody is stupid and broken in their own way which we can never see ourselves, yet we make a conscious and sometimes very difficult effort to like each other and get along anyway. Either you "get" that, or you're arrogant.
If you do not actually think of yourself as superior to others, you can accidentally appear arrogant by failing due diligence when communicating with other people, which in turn may be caused by lack of practice. Pay attention to what you say, and think of what you could have said to deliver your message better.
Especially in writing it's important to imagine how the reader may react to your words, and consider the benefit of terseness over the possibility that you may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Going over your phrasing once or twice is a good idea as well. Also keep in mind that whoever you're talking to can not know everything that you know, and that this is often not their own fault.
And the fact is that there are all sorts of people with all sorts of internal regard, but there are also between-individual differences in theory of mind.
It doesn't matter whether you are Bill Gates, Joe the Plumber, or Andrew Ng. You can always benefit from playing the game. You are never too elite or too rich to play the game. Even if you think you're better than everyone else, as long as you can easily manage an elegant model of public perception, it behooves you to play.
So why would someone not play? I think, (1) your theory of mind isn't up to par, or (2) you have contempt for people and an impulsivity that gets in your way notwithstanding your individual and crowd modelling abilities, or (3) some combination thereof.
2 - People who are arrogant do not ask much questions. Arrogant people are unpleasant to interact with.
3 - Coping mechanism for little internal confidence. Alternatively, nobody told them they are projecting or they can't see this for themselves. In pathetic cases they can not help themselves.
4 - No, not always bad. In some roles it is necessary to exude confidence and a better-than-thou attitude. But when you are not a general, king, pope, or professor, then people will not take kindly to such behavior.
You can avoid being arrogant, the same way you can (try to) avoid being stupid, Andrey Kolmogorov: "Every mathematician believes that he is ahead of the others. The reason none state this belief in public is because they are intelligent people.". Also realize that there is only one way to be perfectly correct, but a possibly infinite ways of being wrong.
If people who are more powerful than you perceive you to be arrogant, they will tend to lash out and strike back. If people who are less powerful than you perceive you as arrogant, they will walk on eggshells around you. Because no one likes to feel stupid.
The tricky thing is that you need to remember to care about how what you say will make people feel, even when what you are saying is purely technical in nature. In other words, you can't ever focus so purely on the technical issues that you forget to craft your words to account for your audience's feelings. Which is really hard.
I would say arrogance is using your power, wealth, prestige just to show others that you are powerful.
The secret to gaining respect is having power, but only leveraging it when absolutely necessary.
2. From a lack of empathy or consideration.
3. I think it's largely due to deep rooted insecurity (maybe in other areas than their strengths).
4. I think it is always bad. I don't know how you can avoid it aside from self-reflection.
So find times throughout the day to pause and reflect on what you've said and done. Ask yourself how others might interpret what you've said and done and if that could have been done in a different way that still accomplishes the same thing while being more understanding of their situations/circumstances.
Once you have developed that habit you can start to strategically craft that questioning into everything you do/say proactively.
Keep doing this continually and ideally you will develop more empathy.
Edit: also find time to regularly volunteer in some way. i.e. if all of the things you do are towards one end - helping yourself, it's difficult to believe you're actually an empathic/caring person. Sometimes you have to live it to become it. So do it and then you'll be it.
"Assume that your part of the project is the easy part." 
"Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. ... Ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: 'Wow. That sounds hard.'" - Paul Ford 
When arrogance becomes problematic is when it impacts your ability to work with others. The best type of person is someone who can bring others in to work with them, praise the people they are delegating work to. And share the success of a project, with those vital team players.
I'm sure others will tell you I'm not great at it, but I think the key is to cultivate an attitude where you _genuinely_ value all other people regardless of ability (or whatever you suspect is causing you to value people lower.) If you're in a position to do so, _genuinely_ want to help other people to the degree they want to be helped.
A few things that come to mind to combat it:
- Be genuinely humble. Don't think you are "a better person" than anybody.
- Value people as people, not by material measures like intellect, health, wealth, etc.
- It is ok to think you are good at something, but don't brag. Realize you have not always been good, and there is always somebody better.
- When appropriate, help others, but be sure they want help.
- When helping, be really nice and sympathetic to those you help.
- Volunteer and serve poor/needy/disabled. Don't be proud or brag about doing it, but genuinely want to help those who for whatever reason are not lucky enough to be discussing arrogance on HN ;) Talk to the people and learn their names and stories. Just interacting with those people and treating them as people will help you find balance.
2) Almost everyone is arrogant to others in one way or another. Usually derision is expressed in private, but an arrogant person makes no attempt to hide it.
3) More often than not, arrogance is a front to hide and protect a secret vast well of incompetence. My own experience has shown that the bigger the attitude, the smaller the talent. Almost invariably.
4) Contempt for stupidity or laziness can sometimes be motivating to the recipient, but not usually. Lots of life experience can eventually cure arrogance for some.
Just remember, stupidity makes perfect sense in the face of it all.
Napoleon was "arrogant" for thinking he could march 500,000 troops into Russia in the middle of Winter. But had he succeeded, he'd be described much differently.
Frequently, people that call others "arrogant" are actually voicing their own insecurities and using it as a crutch to avoid moving outside of their comfort zone.
The most important thing to remember is the Golden Rule - treat others as you would wish to be treated in their situation. If being arrogant breaks this rule, then don't do it.
"Watch your thoughts, for they become your words", is part of a Jewish proverb. What's inside of you will eventually come out, so it's best to deal with it straight away.
2. Detecting arrogance in others is pretty easy: they do not listen to an alternative point of view with any patience.
I think the question really being asked is: "How do you detect arrogance in yourself?" That's more interesting, and more difficult. Unfortunately arrogant people are the least receptive to the feedback they are arrogant because the root cause is that they are bad at listening. There are some good indicators you can use to help recognize arrogance in yourself if you are an arrogant person by nature, however. I think the most effective is to monitor your use of questions and not statements when having discussions with your peers. If >90% of your contribution to the conversation are statements and not questions, you're almost certainly being arrogant. "We can't do it that way" is very different than "Why did we decide to do it that way?" One is a statement that begs equally fierce opposition, the second starts a conversation that reveals reasoning and the creative process.
So ask lots of questions, and really listen.
3. I'll avoid answering this--it is different for every person. For many it is simply not having had historical peers on their level to effectively add to a conversation, for others it is just a learned behavior. It isn't as important how people go that way, it is important they recognize it and stop.
4. Human behaviors are rarely binary good/bad: each usually has a place. Arrogance can be a tool in rare cases where a massive display of confidence can substitute as a shortcut for authority--you might sometimes see a CEO, for example, say "I am right on this and you are wrong, we are doing it my way" (the subtext that this is in the interest of saving time or resources is often lost in translation). Steve Jobs built an empire on this. However, it is generally bad in the long term to display this level of arrogance--all large-scale work is teamwork, and in a organization of 100 peers you will only be the most right statistically a small percentage of the time.
This is why avoiding arrogance is important; it means that you are open to hearing other solutions and implementing them when they make the most sense.
To avoid arrogance is simple, yet hard. You have to actually listen and converse with your peers. If you have disagreements you should state them politely and from a non-combative alternative point of view--not a combative self-driven point of view, and you should not jump to conlusions. For example: "Won't it be harder for a user to access feature X in this redesign?" is better than "How am I supposed to access feature X now? We can't ship this, it is not good enough". The first leads to conversation, allowing the opposition to present their approach, the second does not. Perhaps feature X was buried because it was found to be used with reduced frequency by actual customers? If you start with the second you are less likely to have the conversation with your peers where that critical information is revealed.
Even though every person has their own way of expressing this, i believe in this sense arrogance is pretty much a given, and overcoming it to some level (which is never completely) is the challenge. In other words, you don't become arrogant, you're born this way, but you can change.
To listen is something you can learn. You can practice. It might not seem so at first sight.