Controlling the need to win - EGO

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by Todd Mitchem

The ego is a funny thing. It’s a pervasive underlying unconscious force within each of us that drives much of our decision-making. When I say ego, however, many people tend to gravitate to arrogant behavior. While the two can be connected, this discussion is not about arrogance. Arrogance is literally a sense of self-importance, which manifests as often-destructive self-limiting behaviors. These behaviors can irritate or annoy others. Sometimes arrogant individuals have a false sense of importance or their actual impact, and this causes distress for themselves as well as those around them. While ego and arrogance can often be mistaken for each other, I prefer to think of arrogance as a shiny Red Ferrari, built for showing off, while ego is the driver’s need to be seen. Regardless of the car you drive, if the need to be seen is greater than the destination, you will most likely crash because your eyes won't be on the road, i.e. your goals.

A healthy ego, grounded sense of self, is essential to your confidence, growth, and feeling of belonging to the physical world. However, an out of control ego will show up in a relationship as contempt, needing to be right or sarcasm designed to make the person in question feel justified or right. Ego utilized in this way builds a wall between co-workers and partners, which can often wreck an otherwise positive relationship journey. In leadership and business, an unhealthy self-centered egoic mindset leads to micromanaging, hateful behaviors, lies, and overall unrest in the person. In a personal relationship, the same mindset leads to micromanaging the relationship, control issues, and eventually a distancing of the two.

So for this discussion, here is my definition of....; ego: 

“the need to win or to make sure others know they are wrong, regardless if they are or not” 

Think about your relationships; have you ever found yourself arguing about some pointless topic when you suddenly realized your need to win and to be seen as "right" had far surpassed the need to have a constructive conversation? What did you do at that moment? Did you immediately stop and apologize or did you dig in deeper and deeper into the need to be right, even if you knew you were wrong? We all have acted this way at some point in even the most healthy relationships both at work and in personal life. 

We have all been in these kinds of looped arguments which default to positions instead of goals, but because we become self-centered, defensive and downright hateful at times, most of these arguments become a fight to the death where the winner is determined not by best ideas or solutions. The winner is determined by who gives up first, thus allowing the other to think they won.

The danger in any interaction like this one is in the way couples or co-workers manage the fallout of what comes next. Conversations based on the ego, the need to win, often begin to create resentment, eye-rolling, sarcasm, and eventually, each person retreats into a state of feeling alone, isolated, and frustrated. In the work environment, people begin to build alliances with those deemed as agreeable. The new alliance then starts a campaign against the "other" person or group, and deep divisions are created. Frustration will build and build until someone explodes and fighting emerges, or someone is so pushed down emotionally that they give up. I often see otherwise healthy people, business partnerships, and coworking relationships turn to destructive in a moment of useless arguing as people fight for a position that is pointless. Then passive aggressive behaviors, anger, and other more destructive forces take hold. Progress is all but wiped out.

For this exercise, I will guide you to taking control of the only person you can, yourself. Below are questions to ask yourself in a moment of dealing with a person who is about to launch into an argument with you, in either personal or professional life.  

My father always taught me that it takes two people to argue. He also said many times that if two people in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary. So, this work to control your own need to win, is critical in all aspects of life. Preventing egoic mayhem is vital, so when you feel the need to win, you can instead get down to the business of solving challenges and working together. Remember, if you seek to be the victor against your co-workers, spouse, friends, or family, it means someone needs to be the victim, and that someone is the person across from you. Is that really someone you want to treat as an adversary?

 In this exercise, you will work with five key questions to eradicate ego and solve any challenge. 

 FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN FACED WITH THE NEED TO BE "RIGHT" IN A DISCUSSION

 1)    What's most important? – In my experience, both in business and in relationships, I have found that someone must always be the grounded one when discussing tough issues. Most people react and are in a constant mental state of "what about me" which leads to dysfunction for a relationship or a business. So this first question puts you in a grounded position from the start, which is your responsibility. By asking, "What's most important?" you are setting a tone for progress and solutions. Remember, this is not what's most important to YOU. Instead, the answer needs to be what's most important to the overall outcome of the problem at hand as it relates to your relationship, job, or business. 

2)    What is the problem we need to solve? - The first question leads nicely into the second. By next asking about the core problem at hand, you are stating a goal, and an outcome can be reached. If you wanted to drive from Colorado to California for a vacation, you would not merely get in the car and head out onto the freeway. Without a clear goal of where you are headed, a destination, you could never hope to arrive. Moreover, if I was in California already and wanted you to come to see me, I must tell you where I am located. My position at the moment is critical if you are ever to reach me. So, by asking, "What is the problem we need to solve?", you are in turn asking a critical location question while setting a goal. This is a question I often say out loud with business relationships, clients, and even my wife. At the onset, I will do my part to establish an endpoint which is solution-based. This way, at least one of us is focused on an achievable non-emotional outcome.

3) Am I taking responsibility for me? - This is a check-in question to be internally asked amid a conversation. When you feel negative emotion during an interaction with another person, you are heading in the wrong direction. I believe that negative emotion manifested as anger, frustration, resentment, etc is a dire warning from our internal balanced mind for us to STOP and go a new direction. When you start to feel angry or frustrated in a conversation, stop your mind and ask yourself, "Am I taking responsibility for me?," The big secret is if you answer with a blame or victim type of response to yourself, you are NOT taking responsibility. 

4) What's next? - Next steps are a critical component to closing out the conversation while moving both you and the other person into a solution based framework. For a question such as this, I will often ask it out loud. When I do so, people are far more receptive to solutions vs. fighting. 

Keep in mind you are dealing with other people, so while these are solid questions and a way of thinking that gets results, these are not ways to control others. Many people are negative, deceitful, and simply completely habitual in their thinking. They know not what they do. But what I work on with teams and individual are tools to help people like you gain control of themselves. Self-mastery is a way for you to operate more joyfully in your daily world, regardless of the people around you. This thinking will give you ultimate control over your happiness, fulfillment, as well as your well being. 

To learn more about Author and Speaker Todd Mitchem click here

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