How Big is Too Big? Getting Your Ego in Check

When we say that someone has a big ego, it’s generally not a compliment. While it’s true that a big ego can get in the way of one’s professional image and relationships, it’s important to have a healthy pride and self-confidence. You will come across as weak and ineffective if your ego is too low. The trick, then, is not to suppress your ego entirely, but to understand it and use it to your advantage. This can be a challenging exercise in self-awareness, but as you may remember from our post on improving EQ, improving self-awareness is the first step to improving your EQ.

If you have a healthy ego, you’re likely to bounce back more quickly from setbacks, and to have a positive outlook on work in general. This can do wonders for creating an overall positive working environment, and others will look to you as a leader as a result. However, if your ego is too large, your fear of losing power and control could compromise your ability to trust others to get things done, killing your productivity and slowing everyone else down. Your colleagues may be hesitant to give you feedback - negative or positive - so your work and managing style will suffer.

How, then, do we know whether we’ve reached a good balance between too little and too much ego? To start, if you find everyone agreeing with you all the time, rather than pushing back on some of your ideas, that could be an indicator. If you find yourself always needing to be right, continually challenging the decisions of others, or bristling at constructive criticism, your ego is getting in the way of achieving your full potential. Taking credit for the ideas of your colleagues or being overly critical of others are also signs of an over-inflated ego. If you describe yourself as a “perfectionist” and always feel the need to give people extremely detailed instructions, that is a sign that your ego may be keeping you from letting go of control.

If you think your ego could use some re-calibrating, that is a good sign - it means you’re aware that you need to make a change and you’re willing to do so. The most important step to taming your ego is to practice humility, particularly if you are in a position of leadership at work. Recognize that leadership is about serving others rather than being served - when things go well, share the credit with your team. And when things go wrong, ask what you can do differently in the future to lead your team to success. On a similar note, try to direct your energy away from putting down others and toward helping them improve. It’s perfectly fine to be proud of your accomplishments, but make it a habit to think about how you can help others along as well.

You’ll want to learn how to graciously accept constructive criticism. Research shows that those who are defensive about criticism tend to be unhappy in their jobs and don’t perform as well as those who can accept feedback with an open mind. Forbes outlines a six-step process for taking constructive criticism which includes

  1. Taking a pause

  2. Listening closely (without letting your thoughts drown out what your colleague is saying).

  3. Remembering how feedback can benefit you

  4. Saying thank you

  5. Asking clarifying questions, and

  6. Requesting time to follow up later if needed.

It also helps to put yourself in your colleague’s shoes and remember how difficult it can be to give constructive feedback to a colleague. In a similar vein, it’s important to learn how to keep your cool when a colleague disagrees with you - make sure to choose your battles effectively, and remember that disagreements are not necessarily personal. You’re likely disagreeing on facts or past experience, not because you dislike each other. Share your reasoning for your point of view, and listen carefully when your colleague does the same.

While it may seem counterintuitive, you can actually keep your ego in check by nurturing it. One way to do this is to improve your self-confidence. An out-of-control ego is often the result of feelings of inadequacy, so setting realistic expectations for yourself and developing your strengths can be helpful. Take pride in your appearance, and surround yourself with caring, supportive people (who will be honest with you when you need to make improvements). Remember that while you are valuable, you should see the value in others as well.

It can be difficult to strike the perfect balance between letting your ego take over completely and suppressing it entirely, but taming your ego is a necessary step in improving your EQ. It takes a considerable amount of self-awareness and reflection.  We’re sure you’ve got what it takes.