At a meeting, you shared an idea that most of your colleagues appreciated. However, your manager opposed it, and went ahead with one of his own ideas. You didn’t let your emotions show, but did feel hurt. Does your manager’s word carry more weight than your acclaimed idea? How do you respond to the situation, without letting your ego get in the way?

Ego—the feeling and idea of one’s own importance—is a common personality trait. Often synonymous with self-esteem, self-image, self-confidence, and self-respect, some researchers conclude that expressing one’s ego is not always bad at a workplace. However, there is a fine line between being egotistical and being self-confident, that many fail to understand. The result? Conflict. According to the Global Human Capital Report, 85% of employees deal with conflict to some degree; 49% of workplace conflicts arise out of personality clashes and warring egos.

Two sides to the coin

Experts from the field of sports often speak about the difference between having too much ego and not having enough of the ego needed, for athletes. Among those who found the right mix of staying humble but ruthless to achieve their goals are Floyd Patterson, Muhammed Ali, and Mike Tyson. It is their sense of self that helped them remain mentally undefeated, in challenging situations. And from the other extreme is the fallen cycling hero Lance Armstrong, who admitted that he took to bike racing to manage his ego and it was his ego that led to his fall: “I loved all sports but when you suffer from a big ego, I couldn’t let others block my road to glory.”

Steering it right

Cy Wakeman, leadership coach and author of No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, recommends differentiating between confidence and ego. In her words, When it comes to the workplace, confidence can move us forward, while the ego will only hold us back.” She suggests a few simple ways of dealing with ego:

  • Depersonalize. Use your energy to accomplish organizational goals, and not only personal ones that feed the ego.
  • Rid yourself of defenses. Greet change with a simple good-to-know attitude. Avoid the argument with your new reality and move on.
  • Focus on what you can give, not receive. Contribute freely from your personal resources, and do it unconditionally.
  • Avoid criticizing. In situations of disagreement, try to find a common ground to work together instead of pointing out faults.
  • Learn from feedback. Feedback cannot hold us back, but the unwillingness to absorb and act on it will. Listen to others’ inputs and improve.

In his book Ego is the Enemy, author Ryan Holiday argues that the solution to the problem of ego is within the self, and not in external factors. Thus, let’s nurture humility, self-awareness, purpose, and realism. And not let our sense of self-importance block our way to success.

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