How Understanding our Own and Others Egos can Help us Get Along and Get Results
Most people complain that it’s not the technical, hands-on day-to-day work which wears them down, but dealing with difficult colleagues, customers and clients that creates tension and tiredness.
Competing, interrupting, boasting, condescending, hoarding, lying, gossiping, possessing, controlling, interfering, blaming, bullying, avoiding, envying, manipulating, criticizing, defensiveness, exaggerating, complaining, and so on.
Although we may consider ourselves ‘nice’ people, we are all guilty of falling into these behaviors, or mild versions of them. In a single business meeting, we may easily observe several of these behaviors operating, even from the ‘leader’ or ‘boss’. It’s no wonder that we sometimes leave meetings wondering why it takes so long to make simple decisions or why we seem to just go around in circles.
What makes reasonably nice, and nicely reasonable people behave in these unhelpful irrational ways. Most of us are too caught up in the business of getting things done, to actually observe what is going on inside ourselves when we interact with others. However, I think most people can recall the feeling of tension that arises in us, when we our new idea is being criticized in a meeting, or we see a colleague getting praised for an idea, which was originally ours.
Our adrenalin starts pumping, our voice may get raised, our muscles tense up. Although we may try to control our reactions and keep a façade of calm maturity, our body tells us a different story. Our body is showing all the signs that we are in danger, or under attack. A disapproving look, an accusation, a potential change in the status quo, are all enough to bring the mind into a state of mild or even severe tension. In other words fear.
Good people behave badly, not because they are morally flawed, but because of fear. Now it may seem a bit absurd to think that 99% of your colleagues are walking around the workplace in a state of fear. But if we substitute the word fear for insecurity, it may be easier to comprehend.
Most people, even those who look super confident, and self-assured, deep down have some feeling of insecurity. Most people want to be accepted, to know that they are valued, and liked. According to personality differences some may also want to be seen as powerful, or helpful, or creative, or intelligent.
These images or ideas about ourselves that we carry around form our egos. Starting from a young age, we absorb subconscious messages that certain behaviors are rewarded by praise or rejection. If not from family, then through the media we may learn our value lies in our looks, our talents, our bank balance, and our position. We form an individual identity, and also adopt family and societal identities, based on our culture, social status, religion, education etc.
These identities can be called ego, or false identities, because they are based on external changeable factors. It seems to be a universal adage that pride comes before a fall. We know on some level, that those who get overly excited about winning a contract, are usually those who suffer most when its lost.
If someone gives you a precious object, such as the Kohinoor diamond to look after for an hour, after the hour is up, you would happily return it. However, if the time period were years or decades, it wouldn’t be so easy to part with it. What has changed in those years? Nothing. The diamond was not and still isn’t yours. But in your consciousness, you have begun to identify the object as yours. Losing something that you believe is yours, even mistakenly, then creates a feeling of fear, fear of loss.
All daylong we identify with things that are ultimately not ours to keep; our positions, our viewpoints, our team, our reputation, our knowledge, our appearance. Ego can be based on external things, like ‘my’ car, or on internal things, such as ‘my’ opinion.
The other universal adage, is you come empty handed and leave empty handed. However, most of us are too busy accumulating to really recognize its implications. As long as we continue to identify ourselves with temporary things, as long as we are operating from the ego, will automatically have some level of insecurity and fear.
If we study our list of difficult behaviors more deeply, we can understand how the ego mechanism works within ourselves and others.
At a meeting, if someone complains about the results of your team, you may find yourself, beginning to defend your team, or perhaps even blaming a particularly team member for the failure. That doesn’t mean every time you explain yourself you are coming from ego. Usually your disturbed emotions, i.e. you feel upset or angry, indicates that you are identifying with the teams failure, and taking the issue as a personal attack. In which case, your so called ‘explaining’ is more likely to be a close minded defensiveness or blaming, in order to protect your image as a competent team leader. You may even attack those who complained, and try to discredit them.
Try to imagine the same meeting, where you are able to put your ego aside, and dis-identify with your team and the results. Dis-identify doesn’t mean you don’t care about the team or the results, it means that you can clearly distinguish, what is you and what is separate to you. You belong to a team, but you are more than a team. The team isn’t forever. The single success or failure of the team doesn’t define you.
Instead of defending, your image as the perfect leader, you are more able to engage in a constructive conversation, asking questions, clarifying where appropriate, apologizing if necessary, taking responsibility without losing your self respect. In this atmosphere of openness and humility, everyone learns. And if the other person’s motive for complaining, was actually coming from their ego, they and others are more likely to see what is really going on, rather than getting caught up in an emotional hurricane of attack and counter attack.
Its not always easy to recognize your own ego operating when you are in the middle of heated interaction, however, once you know that fear, anger and being upset, are indications that ego is operating within you, you can ponder later, what was going on, and get to the point, where you catch yourself quicker and even eliminate some of these unproductive and unpleasant reactions altogether.
Many people want to know, how they can get rid of other peoples egos, but often its ego itself that wants to change others. A truly humble person or egoless person, is so rare, than when others observe someone coming from that mature, self-less, egoless attitude, they usually get influenced to put aside their own egos, at least for a while, and focus on working as a harmonious team, and improving their service for their customers.
So don’t worry about ‘fixing’ others, or even ‘fixing’ yourself. Just notice when you are feeling internally disturbed, and try to detect what fears are operating, what self images you are defending, and remind yourself, that your value lies within you and doesn’t alter according to the ups and downs of office dramas, others opinions.