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How to Handle Coworkers
With 'Big Ego' Problems

by Helen Wilkie

In discussions about dealing with difficult people at work, a phrase often heard is "big ego" or "his ego gets in the way".

Of course, those complaining always mean other people's egos, never their own! In any case, how can you deal with it?

The first question is, how do you know it's an ego problem?

And the answer is that you don't. We tend to speculate about the reasons for people's behavior, and we're quite often wrong.

Here's the problem. Even if you were to approach the person in question, even if you had the nerve to suggest they had an ego problem, you'd be no nearer a solution --- for two reasons.

First, the person is likely to be not only insulted but perhaps bewildered that anyone should see them as egotistical.

Second, and more important, even if they might consider the validity of the comment, what can they do about it? You can't "fix" a swollen ego, because there's no definition of what it actually is.

You can't "fix" a swollen ego, but what can be fixed is behavior

But here's the good news. What can be fixed is the behavior that led you to this opinion in the first place. For that, of course, you first need to identify the behavior.

Suppose Joe has stopped coming to meetings. In casual conversation, someone might say "Joe thinks he's just too important to show up at meetings."

Now putting aside for a moment the fact that that may not be true, the meeting issue is a specific one that can be addressed because it's based on fact: Joe's absence.

Instead of approaching Joe with an accusation about a perceived character flaw, which would undoubtedly invite an emotional reaction, you can discuss a business process that is breaking down.

You might say, "Joe, at yesterday's meeting we had to make a crucial decision on behalf of our new client, XYZ Company, but because you weren't there we didn't have a piece of information that was vital to the decision. That hurt relations with our client." At this point, let Joe comment and see where the discussion goes.

From there, depending on the conversation, you might say, "Actually, Joe, we've noticed you've missed three or four meetings over the past couple of months. Any particular reason?" Now you might get a diatribe about long, drawn out meetings being a waste of time (which might well have been bothering others too), or perhaps some surprising comments you never expected.

But the point is, you've opened up the possibility of dialog about the effects of his behavior, and that's something that can be worked out.

One reason dealing with "difficult" people is a challenge is that you can't "fix" something that's perceived as a character flaw, whether it's ego or laziness or stubbornness or selfishness or anything else. But you can work on correcting disruptive or negative behavior and that can be well worthwhile.

Focus on the behavior that's causing the problem, and consider how you might help the person overcome it to everyone's benefit.

Are you willing to give it a try, or will you just keep complaining about "the big egos around here"?

Helen Wilkie is a professional keynote speaker and workshop leader specializing in communication at work. Subscribe here to her free e-zine, Communi-keys at and get your free 40-page e-book, 23 Ideas You Can Use Right Now to Communicate and Succeed In Your Business Career! Browse her main website at www.mhwcom.com.

Some Related Articles:

Conversing With Highly Opinionated People
How to Deal With an Office Chatterbox


How to confidently talk and make friends - especially if you're shy


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