Stop your ego from getting in the way of what you really want
What is the most difficult type of conflict to resolve?
Maybe it’s when you are in conflict with someone who has much more power than you, like your boss. Or perhaps it’s when the stakes are highest and you have the most to lose. These situations are challenging. But the toughest conflict to resolve is when you don’t know what it is you really want. If you can’t see what it is that you really want from a dispute, you can’t hope to resolve it. This often happens when someone becomes attached to their self-image.
So how does ego prevent someone from getting what they really want? Their identity issues blind them to their own needs. As a result, they advocate for their ego rather than their true desires.
Reacting Rather Than Responding
Let’s say you are an account manager and your boss tells you she plans to reassign you from the company’s biggest client to a smaller, new one. Your immediate reaction is to take offense. In your mind, this is an undeserved demotion. To add insult to injury, Dan, the person who will be replacing you, has far less experience than you do.
When you ask your boss why she is planning to do this, she only replies, “I think this new client is going to be a great fit for your abilities, and Dan is going to learn a lot in his new role.”
Now you are even more offended. She seems to be implying that your abilities are a better fit for less important clients. Also, you wonder exactly what Dan has done to earn this opportunity to learn from the company’s anchor client.
After ruminating, you respond by telling your boss that you are furious about this reassignment and that she has never appreciated what you bring to the company. You blame her for “playing favorites.” Your boss doesn’t say much in response but is clearly irritated and frustrated by what you said. She had actually expected you to be excited by the new assignment.
The real problem for you is not the reassignment or your boss. It is that you haven’t taken time to consider how your fixed view of yourself is getting in the way of seeing the situation clearly. You have come to believe that the company’s largest client is necessarily its most prestigious. But is that really the case? You also assume that the highest performing account manager should be assigned to that client. But is that true either?
You decide to speak to your coach about the situation. As he prompts you to question your assumptions, you begin to see the situation differently. First, you begin to realize that the largest client isn’t necessarily the most important client. You recall that your boss had previously spoken to the team about the “incredible growth potential” of this new client and how this new client could become a “game changer” for the company. When you had first heard those comments you dismissed them.
Next, you begin to question your assumption that the company’s highest performing account manager should be assigned to the largest client. On reflection you realize that the most challenging aspects of your job come in the early stages of deployment. The first 12 to 18 months are when new clients are most at-risk of failing, which is exactly when a great account manager is needed. In this case the company has good reason to assign its best account managers to new clients. Your attachment to the large client prevented you from seeing this.
Finally, you realize that you could benefit from a new challenge. You have been with the same client for almost five years, and haven’t had to forge any new client relationships since then. A new client could give you a fresh perspective and help you grow.
With these new insights you mind, you realize this reassignment is actually a kind of promotion. You decide to embrace this new challenge and re-engage with your boss.
Our jobs are more than our occupations. They reinforce our identity. Someone typically introduces themselves to you as an “Account Manager” rather than someone who “manages accounts”. These titles come with expectations about the characteristics of the person who holds them. We internalize those characteristics and that sometimes prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
Making a Plan
To keep your ego from getting in the way of what you really want, there are several things you can do.
First, recognize we all need to grow. A little humility goes a long way.
Second, place yourself in unfamiliar situations from time to time where others don’t know who you are or what you have accomplished. Get yourself out of your comfort zone.
Third, avoid jumping to conclusions about other people’s motivations. Consider alternative explanations. Ask questions with an open mind.
Fourth, consider the greater good. Pay more attention to what needs to get done than who you are.
Identity and self-image always come into play when conflict arises. Recognizing when and how that occurs within you will help you manage conflict with others more effectively.