If you went to work today, chances are you dealt with someone with a big ego; someone
who seems to lord their status over us, or struggles to assert it by shooting our ideas down. It happens all the time; at the office and with clients too.
The word “ego” has an acutely negative connotation, however, people’s desire to have their status recognized is a legitimate and universal human need. I need it, and you do too. The reason we find other people’s “egos” difficult to deal with is because they tend to hurt our own. People often put others down to build themselves up or subjugate themselves not to piss others off. Struggles to exert status often overlap and clash.
The good news is that status is not a zero sum-game. More for one person doesn’t have to mean less for another.
Here’s another approach: recognize the other person’s status in an area that doesn’t threaten you, then assert your own in a way that doesn’t threaten them.
By highlighting your differing areas of status (i.e.- strengths and expertise), without competing on them, you boost the other person’s status, without subjugating yours.
Take the following example based on a real life conversation (names changed to protect the guilty).
John: Hey Jane, I wanted to talk to you about the upcoming project we’re going to be working together on and how we are going to divide up roles.
Jane: It’ll be easy. I’m a lawyer and I literally wrote the book on this stuff at my last job. I clearly have more experience at this so why don’t you let me plan it out and we can go from there.
John: I heard about that manual you wrote. Very interesting stuff. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to this project. I think you have such an in depth knowledge of the legal component that it will be beyond water tight. And, when we couple that with my 10 year background in marketing, I think we’ll be able to put something together that’s far superior to what other people out there are doing. For example…..
Notice how John deals with Jane’s massive ego without putting himself down or pissing her off.
A word of caution: this can’t be mere flattery. People can tell if you are insincere, so empty compliments will make matters worse. You have to find something you actually do respect the other person for.
This might sound difficult if you dislike (or even despise!) the other person. The good news is that there are many different areas where you can recognize someone’s status at work that have nothing to do with liking them. Here’s a partial list of things you can recognize people’s status in:
- Technical knowledge
- Years of experience
- Type of past experience
- Mastery of a certain program
- Writing ability
- Presenting ability
- Hard work/ effort
- Academic background
- Knowledge of a particular client
- Relationships within the organization
- Relationships outside the organization etc.
The list goes on. If you look hard enough you should be able to find something you can legitimately recognize another person for, that’s doesn’t take away from you. Recognize theirs then recognize yours to neutralize the competition that would otherwise emerge.
For more on this topic check out the book Beyond Reason by Roger Fisher and Dan Shapiro.