So much talk about egos: delicate egos, shattered egos, monster egos, maniacal egos. What is this all about?
Recently I was working with a supposed team of supposedly like-minded individuals who purported to share the same mission, goals and purpose. What a nightmare! This small group of nine were completely divided into two camps-the ego-centric, 'it-must-be-my-way' camp and the 'whatever-you-want' camp. Could have been ideal if the 'my way' camp were not divided into two camps as well. The war had been waging for years. And, I, intrepid consultant and mediator, walked directly into the mess! I was to bring the warriors to the peace table and negotiate a settlement.
Not for the feint-hearted, I tell you.
What is this ego-stuff? Dictionaries offer meanings ranging from "the self, especially as distinct from the world and other
selves" to "an exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit" to "an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others."
The last definition is the one most folks hold when they use the word as it is seldom used in a positive context.
You may think you are superior. You may even be superior...in position, intellect, experience or expertise. When you act
superior, trouble brews. No one enjoys being put down...and, no one deserves to be. If you believe that this world moves too quickly to take care of what you might like to call 'fragile egos', you're missing the point. That can be a trite way to
dismiss your bad behavior. Running roughshod over people is a very poor way to get your exercise.
What if you are the target of this exercise? Your job is to give up your position as a doormat. If you are to make the
contribution you were hired to make, you need the skills to teach people how to treat you.
One quick caveat before we proceed: there are people out there, often in positions of power, who prefer to live like 'rhinos'. They can't see well, are constantly sniffing for trouble and charge at anything that moves. (You can learn more about how to handle them in my book, Wrestling Rhinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work.) When working with a rhino, you'll need all the skills you can muster, however, even rhinos can be contained, if not tamed.
Rhinos are often bullies. They live in the 'it-must-be-my-way' camp and they behave from a 'I'll run you over if you get in my way' philosophy. You've met one or two. Just as real rhinos can change direction in an instant, bullies will change your words on a dime. Have you experienced that? Unlike real rhinos, though, they can be sneaky. Workplace bullies will report issues only slightly-very slightly-differently than they happened. No one says anything but it seems so petty. The next time, they change it slightly again. Soon, the story is significantly different than reality. When anyone speaks up to complain, they say, "You've gone along with this and said nothing. What's your problem now?" These rhino bullies are crafty. Getting their own way is the most important thing in their day. Actually, they are the fragile ones constantly needing the ego boost of running over people's ideas and feelings. Everyone is potential ego fodder to a rhino!
A healthy ego is one that will not lie down in the face of a rhino. A healthy ego does not defend, whine, complain or make
excuses. All that is required is a quick four-step formula for success:
1. NAME IT!
Describe the behavior you are addressing-only the behavior, not the person. "When I hear words like 'lazy/uninvolved/overpaid, etc' applied to me, I need to address it."
2. CLAIM IT!
"I feel/need/want/prefer__________ in relation to me, my work or my team."
3. TAME IT!
"If there is something specific we need to discuss, I am happy to debrief it with you. Let's clarify the exact issues or
instances you are referring to so that we can clarify the issues."
4. LEAD IT AWAY
"Would you like to do that now or set an appointment to talk further?"
When you let rhino bullies get away with even one statement that leads the conversation astray from your perception of the truth, the downward slide has begun. Learn to speak up at the first sign of wayward behavior. It takes strength to do so. Do it with no emotional taglines. Simply the facts.
When emotion bursts forth, a bully will jump all over that, too.
They invariably want to make a person who 'feels' something out to be weak, particularly if that person is a woman. So, simply state the facts with the formula above.
Be aware: bullies get huffier, more vocal and more damaging when first confronted. That's when you must keep your emotions in check and quietly state the facts. When you consistently teach a bully that you will not allow them to behave poorly towards you, they often get a perverse respect for you.
Many bullies are fragile even in the face of all their blowhard demands and stances. They are simply afraid that no one values them, respects them or takes them seriously. Knowing this, you'll find other ways to compassionately handle delicate "bully egos".
As for you, take the high road with your healthy ego intact. You deserve respect. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to feel good at work. Step up. Speak up and contain those rhinos!Dr. Rhoberta Shaler solves 'people problems' by making it easier to talk about difficult things. Dr. Shaler speaks to,
trains and coaches executives and entrepreneurs worldwide in the communication skills essential to creating powerful
conversations that reduce conflict & anger, build trust, and streamline negotiation. She is the Founder and CEO of the Optimize! Institute in Escondido, CA and author of Wrestling hinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work. http://www.OptimizeInstitute.com for newsletter, teleseminars & upcoming programs