Monday Mornings with Madison

Is Pride A Quality or Flaw at Work?

Pride is one of those puzzling traits that is seen at times as a positive and sometimes as a negative.  On the one hand, we are encouraged to be proud of our accomplishments.  Training seminars tout the need to take pride in the work we do.  From a very young age, we are told that we should be proud to be Americans.  We are expected to be proud of our accomplishments and of the accomplishments of our children and family.  We hear things like:  “Show some pride!” “Stand Up for yourself!” “Walk tall!” “Don’t be a doormat!” “Be proud of who you are!” “Stick out your chest and hold your head high!”

On the other hand, haughty pride is seen as the opposite of the spirit of humility.  The proud are seen as so blinded by their pride that they think there is no higher power.  So is pride a quality or a flaw?  For example, is it wrong for an Olympic athlete to know they’re good at their sport? What is the dividing line between recognizing the truth about oneself and being prideful? Is it okay to have pride in one’s work or be proud of one’s accomplishments?  How does pride impact a person’s work?  Where is the line between being appropriately culturally confident and being prideful?

Two Kinds of Pride

Pride can be both a quality and a flaw.  That is because there are really two kinds of pride.

In first place, there is the sense of pride that makes you feel good about something in which you or someone you care about put effort.  At work, for example, there is a pride of ownership and a pride in the quality of one’s work. This aspect of pride is the warm feeling of being part of that something that is special.  It is equated with dignity and this type of pride is connected to respect and admiration for hard work and effort.

Then there is bad pride.  That is haughtiness or self-righteousness.  That is when a person looks at their work and gets an inflated sense of self worth and believes he/she is better than others.  This is self-aggrandizement or conceit.

This idea of two kinds of pride was confirmed by scientific research.  Until recently, pride had received little research attention since it didn’t fit easily into the category of “primary emotions” such as fear, anger or joy. Instead, pride was categorized as a “self-conscious emotion” which developed out of social interaction with others.  Psychology Assistant Professor Jessica Tracy and co-investigator Professor Richard Robins at the University of California, Davis, were among the first to explore the different facets of pride.  They established that pride has two faces: hubristic and authentic. They conducted a range of studies where participants consistently came up with two distinct categories to define and characterize pride.  One was hubristic and the other was labeled authentic.  Hubristic pride reflects feelings of arrogance, grandiosity and superiority.  For example someone finishing a task will think, “I’m a really great person” instead of focusing on the achievement.  Hubristic pride is associated more with narcissism, which can lead to inter-personal conflicts.  On the other hand, authentic pride reflects achievement and mastery, a sense of: “I worked really hard to achieve this goal.” Authentic pride has a purpose and results in positive outcomes.

To study the trait’s duality, an assessment tool was developed — the first of its kind.  The measurement was a self-report scale that offered the respondent a selection of words to describe feelings and views on pride. “Arrogant,” “conceited” and “egotistical” would indicate hubristic pride while “achieving,” “accomplished,” “productive,” “confident” and “fulfilled” indicate authentic pride.

Visible Pride

Part of the problem with pride – especially hubristic pride – is that it is not only an internal trait or emotion.  It is also manifested in body language. Case in point.  Anyone watching a basketball game can visibly see the pride expression when someone scores. The player raises his arms up, tilts his head back and puffs his chest out.

This theory about the universality of the pride expression was also confirmed by researchers.  Research was done between 2003 and 2005 in Toussiana, a rural village in Burkina Faso. The villagers spoke only their native African language, Dioula, and could not read or write. Working with a translator, they were asked to describe what they saw in the photographs of male and female white Americans and West Africans, who displayed different emotions.  They found that recognition of the pride expression cut across all cultures.

Pride at Work

It turns out that there is a good pride and a bad pride as it relates to work too.  It is good to have pride in what we do.  If a person’s goal is to finish a project and the goal is met, it is good to feel a sense of satisfaction in meeting that goal.  That is pride in one’s work.  And that pride not only exists for past accomplishments, but it also drives us as we actively engage in achieving success.

Pride is particularly useful when it helps us to have and maintain standards, such as being proud of one’s professional abilities and being willing to work hard to maintain them.  Pride can also be a unifying force in a group of people, such as when a team achieves a difficult challenge or lives up to its high standards. It has historically been used by leaders to encourage a depressed organization or country to feel good again.

But pride at work can serve another purpose as well.  When we decide that cutting a corner is not acceptable, we are actively taking pride in our work. It is nothing less than that sort of pride that continues to generate innovation and quality.

Of course, pride also has a dark side at work.  It’s been said that pride is the mother of arrogance.  Refusing to help because the employee considers him or herself ‘above’ a task or is too proud for that work is the kind of pride that kills team unity and stifles success. Pride should also not stand in the way of being fair and reasonable.

Ultimately, while it is good to have pride in one’s work and to be satisfied with one’s work, that should not be boastful or self-aggrandizing.

Having pride is good as long as it unites, uplifts, encourages and motivates oneself and others to do good and do well, and as long as it is not boastful, conceited or divisive.

Quote of the Week

“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” Sophocles, Antigone


© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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