Managing Ego's In The Workplace

The term “ego” has become synonymous with terms such as “self-absorbed” and “self-centred.” Yet before we shy away from our egos completely, let’s dive into discussing both the good and the bad and how they might affect the workplace.

Psychologists describe the ego as a middle man between two sides of our personality: our childish, irrational side and our voice of reason. It is said to be the filter preventing us from lashing out at our boss when we receive criticism. Outside of psychology circles, the ego is usually recognised as a part of our personality from which we draw confidence and self-knowing.

The ego is our definition for ourselves. It encompasses our identity, beliefs and prejudices. It began forming in our minds from when we were young children and is constantly re-shaped by our experience and thoughts. It is what makes us a singular individual with a sense of separation from all else in the world; the feeling of “I.”

With this outlook in mind, our ego can serve a useful purpose. A strong sense of identity and values, allows us to more confidently stand up for ourselves in difficult situations—i.e. when feeling bullied or taken advantage of at work.

But what happens when our ego gets too big?

  • We can be held back from growth. It is easy to get attached to who we “think” we are and what we believe. By refusing to see things differently, we can miss out on opportunities for personal and even professional development.

  • Our ability to be open-minded is impeded. We may get stuck into thinking “it’s my way or the highway.”

  • We may experience a lack of empathy. If we praise ourselves too much and see ourselves as separate from others, we may be quicker to judge than to understand.

  • A sense of heaviness may pervade our lives. If we spend too much time defending our opinions and being uncooperative with others, we may burn out from all the effort.

No one wants to be known as “egotistical.” It’s certainly not a great reputation to have, especially in the workplace. Here are some work-related scenarios where ego might get in the way, and how you can prevent it from doing so.

Scenario #1

You begin work on a team project. You expect to be assigned as project manager, as is usually the case. You are told that others feel your skills would really benefit another role in the group.

Your ego’s response: “But I am always the project manager in group settings!”

An alternative response: Detach from what you are used to. “I might not be used to taking on a different role, but it will give me an opportunity to improve my skills in a new area.”

Scenario #2

A colleague has just been promoted to a role which you wanted. You feel that their work is inefficient and of a lower standard than yours.

Your ego’s response: “That promotion clearly should have been mine. They’re not even good at their job!”

An alternative response: Pause the judgement. “I’m really upset under the circumstances, but maybe there is a good reason for this choice. Maybe they are doing something I am not.”

Scenario #3

Your boss calls you into their office and gives some unexpected criticism of your performance on a recent project.

Your ego’s response: “I did a great job and I don’t understand what the problem is.”

An alternative response: Be open-minded to growth. “That was tough to hear, but I think I can see where it’s coming from. I don’t feel great about it, so I can definitely work to do a better job next time.”

Taming your ego’s knee-jerk reactions at work won’t always be easy. Yet the better you get at it, the more productive and cooperative your professional experiences might be.