Egos at Work
Managing a Co-Worker's Superiority Complex
Egos – we all have them! They're part of what makes us want authority and status, and what gives us confidence. Egos drive our need to be recognized for our accomplishments. This is perfectly normal. But what happens when someone's ego goes too far?
You know the type: the colleague who will do just about anything to claim credit or gain power; the person who takes over every discussion and tries to grab the spotlight; or the team member who continually criticizes other people's ideas. These people are undermining the team's mission with their behavior.
Ego is at the root of many workplace issues. From poor communication to failed negotiation, to faulty decision making, ego can lay a dangerous path of destruction. The obnoxious and overbearing behavior that comes with it can damage creativity, undermine effective problem solving, cause stress, and adversely impact morale.
Many of us know how hard it is to work with – or for – egotistic people. Unfortunately, there's a good chance you'll encounter this trait in a colleague, boss, or customer at some point in your career. After all, the competitive nature of the workplace can naturally cause people to look out for themselves. To protect yourself, you need to manage and contain these larger-than-life personalities.
But first, how do you know you're dealing with an oversized ego and not just a healthy dose of confidence and assertiveness? Watch for some of these common egotistical behaviors:
- Wanting or demanding credit for every idea.
- Using "I" and "me" (instead of "we" and "us") almost exclusively.
- Dominating conversations and meetings.
- Reminding others of their superiority or excellence (real or perceived).
- Stopping others from expressing their ideas.
- Rewarding those who support them (and perhaps punishing those who don't).
- Bullying, or trying to exert power they don't really have.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these behaviors? Do you feel you need to prove your worth all the time? A healthy ego is part of healthy self-esteem. But egotism can emerge when you feel your accomplishments don't measure up. If you have a habit of seeking outside approval and recognition, or if you try to control everything, this can be a sign that you don't believe you can control very much. For tips on building self-esteem and confidence, see our article on Building Self-Confidence.
Be careful not to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg." You wouldn't be surprised if your star salesperson was just a bit egotistical. And your CEO may have a strong sense of the wisdom of his or her own views!
Do what you sensibly can to minimize the impact of egotism, but make sure that your actions are aligned with the interests of your organization.
OK, now you know how to recognize the signs of a big ego – but the people with out-of-control egos probably don't, so you're not likely to get them to change their behavior. Instead, focus on...