Self-righteous: Confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others. (dictionary.com)
How should we deal with self-righteous people at work? I’ve reached the conclusion that we don’t.
Self-righteous folks only care what we think when we agree with what they think. That’s annoying for sure, but it does not necessarily require a response from us. It’s only when the self-righteous individual attempts to exclude or discount the voice of others that we need to respond; that rude behavior is unacceptable and it merits an assertive request to “please stop doing that.” Ignoring the behavior is tantamount to colluding with it. Politely and firmly address the behavior, but forget about addressing the self-righteousness we think causes the behavior.
I don’t think self-righteousness is either a transient mood or malleable job attitude. I think in most cases the cause of self-righteous behavior in individuals is some more stable personality tendency (e.g. narcissism, low-self monitoring, locus of control, self-esteem). While we can and should address behavior at work, don’t think for a minute that we can change someone’s personality. That’s folly.
I know this answer won’t please the coach/consultant guru types that sincerely believe their wizardry can address any dysfunctional behavior in the workplace. That too is folly.
The only root of self-righteousness that we can adequately address is our own. The first response of an awareness of self-righteousness in others should be a look in the mirror, lest we forget what we too are capable of. Ultimately, the only way we can create lasting change in our organizations is by assuming responsibility for the painful process of changing ourselves.
Beware, or the biggest fool in the self-righteous quicksand might be you.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!