The quiet ego

It’s ok to admit you were wrong or say “I don’t know”. Give it a try and see where it gets you.

How many of the issues in your organisation stem from people unwilling to lose face, admit they were wrong, or don’t know, or that someone else is in a better position to solve a problem? I’ve certainly worked in places where that’s definitely been the case. And I’m also certain that I’ve been guilty of these responses at times too.

What drives this behaviour? What stops us from feeling comfortable saying “I don’t know” or that on reflection and with this new information, that we’ve changed our minds? And to trust in others to support us when we do.

Enter the ego.

In The Pressing Need for Everyone to Quiet Their Egos, Scott Barry Kaufman defines ego as:

that aspect of the self that has the incessant need to see itself in a positive light.

Ego is the voice in our head that keeps us on the defensive, that tells us we need to keep the upper hand, look out for number one and win. But win what? And at what cost?

I’m interested in how can we stop the ego from sabotaging us and getting in the way of progress? The quiet ego, a concept developed by Heidi Wayment and Jack Bauer, sounds like something I can get behind:

The quiet ego approach focuses on balancing the interests of the self and others, and cultivating growth of the self and others over time based on self-awareness, interdependent identity, and compassionate experience.

Bauer and Wayment identified four qualities to the quiet ego:

  • detached awareness objective and non-judgmental attention in the present moment
  • inclusive identity empathy and understanding of other people and their experiences
  • perspective-taking reflecting other view points and positions
  • growth-mindedness seeing the long-term impact of our immediate actions

When I first read these, I felt like I’d seen them somewhere before. Then I realised – they are among the foundations of a coaching practice. To loop back to the start of this piece about the issues we face in organisations, perhaps this strengthens the case for developing a coaching approach in our organisations. And not just with senior management but throughout the organisation to create a culture where it’s ok to say “I don’t know”.

If this topic interests you, here are some links you may like to dig in to:

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