MRO Magazine

Big Egos: How to Manage Them

The guy or gal with the big ego ... you know the type. Always trying to be front and centre of everything. Bragging about accomplishments, real or imagined. Dominating the conversation, and pushing an...


November 1, 2003
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

The guy or gal with the big ego … you know the type. Always trying to be front and centre of everything. Bragging about accomplishments, real or imagined. Dominating the conversation, and pushing and pulling to steer it toward themselves.

Big egos are present everywhere: Among your colleagues and employees, your customers, your suppliers. At first blush, they may seem to present nothing but problems. But people with big egos often have tremendous drive and ambition. Harnessed, these qualities can do everyone a world of good. With a little thought and deft action, you can build sound working relationships with these folks, and manage their seemingly egotistical behaviour productively. Here’s how.

Understand it. Once you encounter someone with a large ego, try to understand its origins. This understanding can help you build a working relationship with the individual. Hint: Look for pressures in the individual’s work life. For example, a sales professional in a highly competitive industry might exhibit egotistical behaviour as a sales tactic.

Complement it. Pattern your behaviour so that it harmonizes with that of your egotistical colleague. The result may be improved communication and an opportunity for you to reshape the more offending elements of his behaviour. Hint: Exhibit behaviour that reinforces your desire to work with the individual. For example, you might ask a boastful individual to describe one or two of his accomplishments in more detail.

Probe it. What part of the individual’s behaviour can you influence? Answer that question and you may be on your way toward a positive working relationship. Hint: Distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined when it comes to the individual’s concerns. For example, a new employee might already have your trust, but may simply be overcompensating in order to prove himself to you. In this instance, you’ll be able to provide reassurance.

Acknowledge it. While it’s always tempting to criticize the individual with the large ego, criticism usually doesn’t help much. Better to calmly and professionally recognize the behaviour, and even discuss it with the other individual. Hint: Always demonstrate an open, non-judgmental demeanour. For example, you might discuss a vendor’s behaviour with him by objectively comparing it to the behaviour of another vendor.

Modify it. The secret to reshaping ego-oriented behaviour is usually a simple one: reinforce and reward the behaviour you’d rather see. Hint: Look for examples of even-tempered, forthright action on the part of the individual — exactly the opposite of egotistical behaviour. Explain to him why those actions are especially satisfying and productive.

Eliminate it. If you’re in a position to set concrete behavioural expectations, consider doing so. Hint: Behavioural objectives are especially appropriate in employee appraisals. You might, for example, set an expectation of low-key communication, and practice that communication style as part of the appraisal conference.

Model it (the desired behaviour, that is). Act the way you want your egotistical partner to act. Even more importantly, appear confident in doing so. Hint: It’s possible that he hasn’t seen the type of temperate behaviour you’re advocating. Your positive actions might influence his, and your confidence and self-esteem may inspire him.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.

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Egotistical behaviour: Four signs

To some extent, what constitutes “egotistical” behaviour lies in the eye of the beholder. But when you observe one or more of these signs in another individual, chances are you’re dealing with someone preoccupied with his or her own image:

Bragging — repeated boasts of superior accomplishments.

Excessive talk — incessant attempts to dominate conversation or steer the conversation to oneself.

Exaggerated behaviour — always attempting to force oneself into the centre of activity.

Insensitivity — expressing views or taking actions without regard to the thoughts or feelings of others.