Have you ever met someone knew and remember thinking, “wow, this person must know everything?” Or “wow, this person clearly thinks highly of themselves?” Or even, “wow, this person obviously thinks they are better than me?” We all know that person who barely smiles, whose nose is always slightly upturned, the person who acknowledges you when it benefits them but acts as though you’re a random stranger on the street when it doesn’t.
We all have encountered, at one time or another, people who have a bit of a superiority complex. In fact, some of us may have been that person at least once. One of my best friends, upon first meeting me, commented that I was aloof. I used to blame this on being taller than most women (standing at 5′ 11” in flats) and therefore it was easier to shift my gaze than stare down at the person I was talking to, feeling like staring down would make them uncomfortable. It turns out, interestingly, that eye contact is preferred by most people. Regardless, this post is not about my aloofness, but rather about how we navigate those moments and interactions when we feel that someone is treating us like we don’t matter or that we’re beneath them or that we can’t offer than anything they want.
I was recently at a networking function, and a friend of mine commented on how a particular person at the event wasn’t talking to people she knew. Any by not talking, I mean flat out ignoring, pretending like she didn’t know our face from the wall behind us. I was un-offended, as this is not the first time this person has blatantly ignored me, despite us knowing each other. But then, a few days later, another person who attended the same event commented on this person’s behavior. She said, “it’s very clear that this person only talks to people who they feel will offer them something.” I nodded in agreement and basically said that if I’m not worth this person’s time, then they aren’t worth mine.
Upon reflection, however, I think that’s a bad outlook. The whole “if they can’t be bothered, I’ll ignore them just as ferociously,” is actually the weaker approach. People who think they’re better than others are similar to bullies in so far as when you call “bullshit” they often scare. Can you imagine how bad it would look if Miss Uppity, with her nose raised high and her eyes cast through you, blatantly ignored your pleasantries? For example, if you are attending an event and you never interact with the person, no one really knows if you know each other or not. But if you casually say, “hello, Miss Uppity, nice to see you again,” and then you go on your merry way to work the room, what then? In law school, when we give fact patterns the question is often “what result?” So, what is the result of being kind to those who act superior? Either harshness, which speaks volumes about them or a simple “oh hello, insert something artificial here.” Regardless, neither reaction is particularly fulfilling in the sense that you won’t get something from the person. However, you will get something from yourself because you are not allowing someone to look through you and cast you off as they would their used cocktail napkin after a long night of schmoozing “the right people.”
My mom always tells me to be humble and kind (yes, the Tim McGraw song… I am from rural California so can appreciate a country song). When I complain about someone who treated me poorly or made me feel bad, she reiterates that long-held rule: kill ’em with kindness (yes, this was a rule before Selena Gomez made it a song). I always find that what makes me feel better in the moments that someone tries to bring me down is to treat them better than they treated me. I don’t want to sink to their level because, at the end of the day, someone’s upturned nose or ability to see through me does not prove anything to anyone. Are they better than me? Maybe at something, but just generally? We’re all humans who should treat each other with respect.
Additionally, something I’ve learned over time is that the ability to work a room, truly work a room and climb that ever-raised social ladder, should have an effortless quality. If people notice you’re trying to social climb, that isn’t a good look. Obviously, networking, making contacts and moving up in the world is a goal for many young ambitious people, but again, you never know who someone knows. That person that Miss Uppity ignored? Their dad is a congressman and she wants to work on the Hill. That other person Miss Uppity looked right through? Their friend worked for a major company that she’s trying to work for. And that other person? Their cousin’s friend is the CEO at Startup. Obviously, these are extremes, but hey, you may know your network intimately, but you don’t know someone else’s
So, remember to be kind to people and remember that if someone acts better than you, it just shows they aren’t.