7 tested ways to handle the office super-ego
Do you work with a super-ego?
Or a superstar, an ‘Alpha’ personality, a peacock strutting their stuff? You know the people who always speak the loudest, steam-rolling other people’s opinions in meetings..?
Maybe they’re the lead software engineer who makes snide remarks about the product development process during team meetings. Perhaps it’s the employee who’s been in the company longest, who feel it’s ‘their way or the highway’. Or maybe it’s the colleague who assumes they know they best answer to every problem before you’ve even presented the different solutions.
Companies are almost always proud to have them onboard, as they’re often high achievers, big billers and they boast about their business results. But when we actually have to work with them, pride isn’t usually first on the list of emotions we feel about them. Their super-sized ego can be tough for us to deal with.
If you decide to just ‘put up with it’ then you’re doing yourself wrong – you’ll start to feel resentful, stop enjoying work and your creativity will suffer, all of which can lead to serious burnout.
So how do we not only work alongside these tricky personalities but find a way to work with them?
Don’t be intimidated
Although it may seem counterintuitive, people with enormous egos actually respect people who ‘call them out.’ It might not seem like it in the moment and you may have to pluck up your courage, but saying “I can tell you’re really worked up about this which is great, because we both want to make the right decision. Why don’t we both go away and think about it and let me know when would be a better time to talk about this calmly?”
Your strategy might provoke a nasty initial response with them snapping at you, but there’s no sense in letting them continue to dominate a conversation. The truth is that most dominant people respect dominance in others, even when they don’t agree with the content of the message. Worst case scenario: you remove yourself from a negative exchange. Best case scenario: you earn some respect from ‘the bully’ and they learn that you intend to have your voice heard too. Don’t let someone else’s bullying flaws bring out your inner wimp.
Reinforce great behaviour
Make sure they realise that you’ve noticed when they acknowledge you or listen to others. We all crave recognition, so make sure you recognise them for behaving the RIGHT way. When they take your idea seriously in a team meeting instead of instantly dismissing it, discreetly tell them afterwards how valued that made you feel. You don’t have to ‘suck up’, but quietly saying “It’s really positive that we all discussed that openly and it’s great working together with you to find a solution”. In the same way that children repeat behaviour when they know they’ll get a treat or reward, we all do the same in our working lives.
Include them in decision making
Flattery goes a long way, and by asking their opinion you’ll get them onside at the start. Turn them into your biggest advocate! Stroke their ego, and let them know how pleased you are that they’re so passionate about a project/task/whatever they’re determined they’re correct about. Tell them that you’re sure they will help you make the best decision by examining and weighing up ALL the facts and opinions of others before making any decisions, and that’s why you want them to be involved. This isn’t being a push-over, it’s preventing a negative situation later on where they disagree with you, just for the sake of it!
Bust the bragging
Ask for specific facts, stats and metrics when they disagree with you. “That’ll never work” can be met with request to explain (factually) the reasons they think it won’t work. Or you could meet their ‘my way is better’ attitude with (factual) comparisons between two methods. Often, the bully has very little to back up their blustering statements and has nothing constructive to add, so they’ll back off.
It’s not a competition!
Don’t get caught in a negative, boastful cycle or feel you have to ‘act like them’ to be heard or to be noticed. This will simply make them brag, boast or talk even louder to be ‘a bigger voice’ than you. Then no-one wins! Focus your energy on being a team player and the positive contributions you can make. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in gossip about ‘The Alpha’. Take the high road and avoid dwelling on their shortcomings.
When you’re in meetings, don’t feel that you have to pick sides. Even if you’re not hosting the meeting, you can help by using language like “we all want to ensure we find the best solution/choose the right product/support the right charity, so let’s hear everyone’s opinion.” There are no right or wrong suggestions, and everyone deserves to be heard.
Give small egos a big boost
Highlight less confident colleagues as experts in their field and publicly ask their opinion, directly. If they’re on your team, then ask them to create a list of top tips (about team-work, or time-management, or listening well to others) and present them at the next team meeting. Not only will this help to boost their confidence and show our faith in them, but it shows the super-ego that others excel in areas where they might have weaknesses.
Give them the mic:
In one-one-one situations you probably feel that you’re being talked over and that you can’t get a word in edgeways. So don’t try to! Start with a phrase like this:
- “I’d like to talk about _____ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.”
- “We need to decide which areas we focus our development on, and I value your thoughts as I know you often have strong opinions. Can you tell me your thoughts about what you think we should focus on?”
Let them talk until they’re totally finished and they’ve run out of steam (any interruptions will just make them talk louder!), and be genuinely open to discovering their ideas. Listen, acknowledge their points and repeat them back to illustrate that you’ve listened. ‘Super-egos’ often like to repeat their point because they like to think they’re always right – so why bother listening to anyone else…
Now is your chance to talk. There’s no need to be combative, and by using language like “Those are all great ideas. I’m going to talk you through mine now and I’m keen to hear your feedback once I finish”
…And don’t forget: they’re human too. Super-egos and bragging are often a front for insecurity. Yep, it might not seem like it, but boasting can be used as a protective barrier, and a way to reassure themselves (and try to highlight to others) that they’re brilliant. Have patience, avoid competing with them and remember that great actions speak louder than words.
If you work with a super-ego and you’ve tried all the tips above (plus speaking to your line-manager about the challenges you’re having), then maybe it’s time to move elsewhere.
NOTE: Harassment is not the same as a just having super-ego – make sure you speak to your line manager or to HR if you see any targeted verbal attacks or negative focus on any individual.