Big Egos in the Workplace
The word "ego" is commonly used in our daily conversation, but not many people truly know its meaning. Ego, as defined in the Collins English Dictionary, is a person’s sense of his or her own worth. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability".
Ego is not, in the real sense of the word, a person’s self-esteem or self-respect. Self- esteem has to do with your confidence or self-satisfaction. So, if someone is described as having low self-esteem, it means that person lacks confidence in doing something, for example, speaking in front of an audience, or completing a specific task or participating in a competition. It is good to note that a person with low self-esteem does not necessarily mean they have a low ego, and vice versa.
The word "ego" by itself has many variations and interpretations. Like for example, do you know what your alter ego is, or what superego means? What is the difference between egoistic, egotistic, and egocentric? Is egoism the same as egomania, narcissism, pride, selfishness, self-centredness, or altruism? Well, I could go on and on but I shall not.
In its noun form, the word ‘ego’ is neutral - it is neither positive nor negative, but in its adjective form, it connotes a negative word. For example, if I tell you
that you are an egoistic person, I mean to say that you are a person who does things to satisfy your own needs first before satisfying those of others.
Egoistic is often confused with egotistic. They are not the same. An egoistic person is preoccupied with gratifying his or her needs, while an egotistic person has a self-delusional, inflated opinion of himself or herself. A person can be egoistic without necessarily be egotistic. Does it make sense? Well - enough with all the definitions, let us take a look at the importance of ego in our professional and personal lives.
A Mismanaged Ego Can Lead to a Downfall in your Career
The problem of ego in the workplace is common and has been the subject of many studies by psychologists and business analysts. While difficult to measure by any standards, the ego can be quantified in terms of financial gains. However, that is not the main topic of our article here.
As mentioned above, ego and confidence are two very different things. Many people believe that having high scores in both (i.e., high ego and lots of confidence) can get you ahead in your life, especially in your career. However, the reality is that this is not true. According to an article in Forbes (Wakeman, 2015), to have confidence is to have faith in your abilities and belief in yourself. However, unlike confidence, the ego operates out of self-interest, and that people driven by ego are often overconfident and feel that they are always right regardless of the facts. Ego often seeks accolades and endorsements at all costs and is resistant to feedback or advice. However, perhaps the real danger is when the person with the inflated ego tries to seek personal gains and glory at the expense of the team or company. He/she is obsessed with glamour and always wants to be noticed, longs to be praised, and is hungry for all the credit.
As a potential employee in a business environment, it is imperative that you keep your ego in check. Studies have shown that a mismanaged ego can lead to downfall in your career or business venture. Ego tends to prevent you from listening to your peers or bosses. Because you have such a high opinion of yourself (egotism) or that you want to satisfy your own personal desires (egoism), you tend to force your opinion on others. You block out other people’s contributions, refuse to accept feedback or suggestions, and even fail to see things from other people’s perspectives. You make yourself vulnerable to not seeing things or problems in full view, thus leading to wrong decisions or solutions.
An egoistic person also tends to refuse to give others credit for success while assigning failures to colleagues or team members. They do things to pursue their own agenda, satisfy their own desires, and achieve their own ambitions. Other people come second or no place in their hearts and minds. Their own status takes priority, and they underestimate others’ talents, skills, or intelligence. They often remind others that they are privileged and important and expect others to follow their instructions or obey their directions to the letter. They are usually extraordinarily ambitious and feel that they deserve better treatments, better respect, and better ranks. Most of the time, they have double standards - they can insult others but get offended when they get insulted. Moreover, when they feel that they are being ‘assaulted,’ they will threaten the other party to not ‘mess’ with them.
Ego in your Personal Life
On the other hand, if you encounter such persons in your personal lives, you will need to learn how best to handle them. You cannot be too aggressive such that you will send them away or too accommodating that they will take advantage of you. Willingness to negotiate, compromise, and mutually agree are essential so as to iron out any differences and disagreements. You have to show to the other person that he/she is valuable in your life and yet, not at the expense of devaluing your own ego or self-esteem. Be prudent when managing your own ego but be smart in managing others with a ballooned-up ego.
Be Wary of the Big Ego
Egoistic, egotistic or egocentric (concerned with their own self rather than society) people can be dangerous and often display fury and hostility, especially when challenged or when their egos are at stake. Humiliation, failure, and embarrassment will fuel their desire for counterattack and revenge. They tend to remember incidents and people with regards to bad experiences even after many years have passed. They will also often keep on reminding you of your evil deeds to them and tend not to forgive even if you apologised to them.
The short story "An Utterly Perfect Murder" by Ray Bradbury, portrays exactly this particular scenario. The story is about a young boy who had a bully-friend called Ralph Underhill, from the age of eight until twelve. He was often beaten and humiliated by Ralph, but having low self-esteem at that time, and wanting to have friends, he allowed himself to be the object of Ralph’s bullying, jokes, and intimidation. Thirty-six years later, at the age of forty-eight, the author, now a successful professional, started to recall his childhood bully-friend, Ralph. He remembered all the evil things that Ralph had done to him and how he had undermined his self-esteem and bruised his ego. He decided that it was time to seek revenge and settle the scores with Ralph.
This is not a far-fetched story, and if you read the profile of some of the real-life criminals of contemporary times, you will notice that a bruised ego is one of the leading causes of altercations, disputes, and criminal acts. So be careful next time not to offend an egoistic person.
Manage your Ego
Now, this does not mean that people with high egos are not hardworking. In fact, they can be really hard workers and great contributors to their work or team. The only thing is that they tend to always want to be the leader, always want to assert their powers and always want things to be done their ways, as they always think that their methods or solutions are the best. So, to leverage on this, you have to know how to play with their emotions and ego and use this knowledge to make them see things from the perspective of the company. You have to remind them that you work as a team in the company and if the company prospers, they, among others, will gain the benefits too. In principle, you have to make sure that they commit themselves to the group’s objective and not sabotage the company for their own personal gains.
As a summary of this topic, do always remember that your ego can either elevate you to a high position or result in your downfall. The important thing is that you have to manage it and always to keep it in balance. Set your ego to a medium range, not too high that you overpraise yourself and not too low that you allow others to undermine your importance. Strike a balance. Tame your egoistic ego and strive towards doing things not just for your own sake but also for the greater good of others.
If you stop thinking of only pursuing your own personal gains, and start thinking of improving
the lives of others, you will ultimately feel a better sense of self-worth and self-fulfilment. That is the true joy of living.
MBA student Hanna Abdelwahab is a regular writer for our ‘Student Column’ for WUAS News. This column is dedicated to various topics related to student life. Hanna is originally from Singapore but migrated to Egypt in 2011. She has a Bachelor of Accountancy Degree and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education from Singapore, and at present is doing her MBA in Education Management.
by Hanna Albdelwahab