Our ego is there to protect us, both physically and mentally, but it can get in the way from building relationships, moving projects forward, and serving in the best interest of our team. In situations where we might be uncomfortable, our ego steps in to serve as a barrier and shield us from unknowing harm. This can be in the form of turning down ideas without fully hearing them out, not giving credit to those who deserve it, or not trying something new. This can even be more direct and aggressive in language and behavior at work.

So, why should we try to remove it and what can we do about it? Having a little bit of ego is OK, it’s great to pat yourself on the back for a job well done and acknowledge the time and effort you put into something. But when we can’t look past it, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and not take in alternative perspectives or change our minds even if better ideas are presented. This not only doesn’t help the organization and team move forward, but it can also stall our careers. No one wants to work with or try to negotiate with someone who is not willing to listen and take their perspectives seriously.

To work through removing your ego, it’s important to recognize when it’s present. Without having a clear understanding of when it’s creeping in, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to take action and move forward.

During a conversation, this may be a tense or uncomfortable situation or conversation where someone else is trying to speak and they’re not able to finish because you are cutting them off. You’re getting louder, more passionate, or even aggressive about a subject in the hopes of getting your point across. I am not talking about work situations where people are being unjustly treated but to circumstances where you keep pushing for something just because you want to “win.”

If you’re noticing those things happening, take a moment to process so you can rationally continue. In the middle of the conversation, this may be a deep breath, a moment of silence, or asking for a few minutes to regroup and continue the conversation at a later point

Then begin to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did I actively reach out and ask people who think, act, and experience life differently from myself for their input/feedback/suggestions before stating (and/or restating) my own? If not, who can I ask and what is the best way to communicate with them?
  2. What new information is needed for me to change my mind and how could I get this?
  3. Did I use the information to inform my decisions or did I “check a box” to say that I asked?
  4. Am I making the best decision for my team and organization or does this decision/opinion only positively impact me and people like me?
  5. Am I holding myself to the same standards that I set and request of other people?
  6. How does this decision and/or request impact my Black and Brown colleagues? How does it impact other diverse colleagues?
  7. How am I holding myself accountable for my actions and behaviors?

These are not easy questions to ask and can take some time to process. And lessening your ego and walking through them does not mean that you’re taking a back seat all the time. It does mean that you’re giving other people the chance to speak, are actively listening to ideas, and consciously taking them into consideration before making the final call. It moves from being about you, to being about everyone. By getting clearer on when and how your ego presents itself at work and taking the necessary steps, you will be able to move your team, career, and organization forward.

Alissa Carpenter
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