Tame your ego

A truly savvy boss will not hire you if you have a big ego. If somehow you got the job, you’ll lose it eventually when your boss wakes up. Because, when your ego is in charge, you suck as an employee, teammate, job seeker, parent, friend, partner, lover or whatever it is you’re doing.

A big ego makes you defend, justify or rationalize when you shouldn’t. It makes you fight, manipulate or hide from challenges. It makes you arrogant and erratic. It prevents you from hearing and recognizing the truth — and from learning.

37 different symbols for the word 'jerk'Bosses have been on the lookout for bad behavior ever since a Stanford professor wrote a popular essay for Harvard business review about The No Asshole Rule and followed it up with a book on the same topic. Other bosses set the bar higher with ‘the hallway test‘. We ask ourselves “Will I enjoy bumping into this person in the hallway or want to pretend I’m too busy to chat?”

A wise boss will know a big ego is a symptom of low self-esteem – that your real issue is fear. Fear that you will be discovered to be weak, incompetent, unlikable, unreliable or anything else you were taught as a child. But, your parents are only partly to blame. They may have planted the seeds long ago, but it’s negative self-talk that perpetuates fear.

Taming your ego is difficult to do, but it can be done. You can start by talking to yourself in healthy ways – calming, supportive and loving ways (also called affirmations).  You can tell yourself things like:

  • I do my best and that’s good enough
  • I have what I need and I’m okay
  • I can handle this, I’ll figure it out
  • I accept what I can’t control and accept things as they are alreadywhich coworker would you like to fire?
  • I’ve always benefited from overcoming a challenge
  • I’ll learn something valuable from this
  • I love myself and take good care of myself
  • I’m proud of myself for _________

Sound corny? So be it! I’ll take corny any day over negative self talk like this:

  • I’m such an idiot
  • he’s such an idiot
  • this is horrible, I can’t cope
  • I always screw up
  • I can’t believe this is happening to me
  • people don’t like me
  • I’ll never get better
  • I never get things right
  • I’m not bright enough

Talk like that and you sow the seeds of your eventual destruction (or just a dysfunctional life and career). So next time you hear one of those, tell yourself “STOP”, picture a big red stop sign, and replace with something healthy and nurturing. Be good to yourself! Your boss will notice the difference.

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  • I used to be a very humble person who did not like to talk about my accomplishments. During some research for interview tips, read that I needed to have more confidence. My idea of confidence included that I be more proud of my accomplishments and talk about them more. However I became a little too boastful. Instead of just mentioning my positive attributes I would go on and include extra unnecessary details that I thought would be more impressive to the interviewers. It was not until I attended a workshop that included a mock interview that my mentor gave me constructive criticism that I realized what I was doing wrong. I was being too boastful and appearing too arrogant.

    After I openly took my mentors advice, I went on another interview. A couple of weeks later I received a call from the president of the Student Government Association congratulating me on receiving the Judicial Advisor position that I had applied for. He also congratulated me on my interviewing skills.

  • wainwright

    A big ego as a sign of low self-esteem…it sounds like a contradiction but it actually makes a lot of sense. When people accused me of lacking humility, I didn’t believe them because, deep inside, my opinion of myself was so low. In retrospect I see what they saw. When I didn’t do something right and was called out on it I always made some excuse as to why I couldn’t be held responsible. That’s essentially telling others that you’re above their criticism, when in fact you’re projecting a shield of hogwash so you won’t feel quite so small.

    Affirming yourself is definitely important, but it’s important to remember to be totally honest and make sure your actions match your words. We know when we’re lying to ourselves. Say “I try my best and that’s good enough”, and take comfort in it because you actually ARE doing your best. As far as I can tell, that’s how the confident and successful people are.

  • giasaporito

    I had a job where i needed to do some things that i considered embarrassing for my image and i tried to find ways out of doing them. This included changing garbage cans and taking garbage out. One day i was almost looked over for more hours because my supervisor could see my efforts to not do certain tasks.

    I realize that putting your ego aside keeps you in a job, and your friends aren’t your friends if the care that you take out garbage. In the end, i have a job and i am making money, and a lot of the time we need to do grubby work as we make our way to the top.

  • Sierra

    This reminds me of my first job at a pizza shop. I was 16 and a nervous wreck on my first day. I asked lots of questions and looked to my co-workers for help with everything for the first week or so, but once I became more comfortable, my ego set in- big time. I was soon convinced that the job was so easy, I could run the place myself. My ‘confidence’ soon earned me a management position, but ‘running the place myself’ didn’t turn out as my 16-year-old self had in mind. I soon realized that I had a lot to learn in order to run the shop half as well as my boss did, but I was too worried about the possibility of him thinking I ‘wasn’t cut out for the position’ to ask for any help.
    Instead, I relied on other employees (the ones I was supposed to be overseeing) to handle any aspects of the job that were too much for me. This went on for a few months- other people practically doing my job, and myself taking all the credit- until my boss asked all the managers to take part in the ‘New Employee Training Video,’ where we each would explain how to do properly complete some aspect of the job. My task-to-complete was, of course, something I never actually learned how to properly do.
    I knew I had to tell my boss what was going on, and get my ego in-check. I expained to him who was helping and with what tasks, and that I was too afraid to ask him for help when I should have. Luckily, my boss was an extremely nice guy, and saw that I was trying to fix my mistakes and be honest. He let me keep my job, helped me learn what I still needed to know, and taught me an important life lesson: having a big ego might give you a false sense of confidence for a while, but when that confidence is tested, the truth is going to catch up with you.

  • Mysroze

    After reading this article, I am really enforced to add that this is in unison with my organizational management course that teaches how to be effective in promoting from “Peon” to Phenominal employee. I respect that people have opinions about any organization that they work for but it is by code that you keep them to yourself until you get in a position to offer suggestions or input on what will help the organization evolve. So check your ego as you go!!!

  • kmac80

    I am currently this person. I need to “humble” myself, and do it quick. I do not think that it is intentional, nor do I feel as if I am compensating for a self esteem issue, but I do feel that in my position I am on the outside looking in. I manage a branch office, and there have been some structural changes with the owner of the company stepping back and implementing a service supervisor in his office. This has caused me to speak up in regards to issues I typically wouldn’t have, and has caused me more grief than it has helped. I recognize that I am using a selfish ambition rather than ambition alone. I am trying to make myself stand out for fear I get passed in the “rat race”. In turn I am making myself look like I am out for me and only me, and no longer a team player. This article has helped me identify what it is I need to do differently to prevent drawing negative attention to me, and it will help me implement a positive strategy. Thanks!!!

  • Throughout my youth I have held several positions in various fields of work from hospitality to labor intensive and had a bit of a problem when dealing with harsh criticism. I learned the hard way to deal with co workers or bosses that I didn’t take kindly to. I have been fired and had quit many jobs in my teenage years up to my early twenties due to my ego and not chilling out and just doing what was asked of me regardless of tone. I use to demand respect because of the hard work I put into a business and for the initiative I always took. So when I was told to do something in an off tone I would be very defensive and take things personally. I believe it was a lot to do with my adolescence and low self esteem. I would not communicate my feelings effectively and just let one thing after another build until I blew up. Now that I am in my mid twenties I have been able to cope with bosses and coworkers much better and have constructed a better way to communicate and not take things so personally. If I feel offended now I calmly and rationally explain feelings toward a situation and work things out with the person who I feel offended me instead of being hot headed. I am much more stable and have learned to do what is asked of me, listen and to take criticism regardless of the tone. My ego is no longer an issue and I am communicative with the people I work with in a mature and rational tone that allows me to get my point across without sounding like an A** ha. Coping with others is hard to do especially when you feel you are being harassed or condescended when you have done your hardest and best work but you just can’t let things get to you personally and you need to take advice from superiors even if you don’t agree so that you can abide by company policy and not do everything your way which will help you keep your position and keep you on good terms with those you work with.

  • I know I have a big ego, still to this day I must always be true to my respect of others and appearing to be humble before them, in order to learn and grow in a positive manner. Even at work I have a lot to learn and I listen to my boss, communicate with my boss and work smartly and safely to the best of my ability, communication in the workplace is very important and just recently as I was moved to a new station where I work I am learning the ins and outs of this job and how to do it properly. Recently I made a mistake which wasn’t major but nonetheless I had to fix it the next day I worked and with the help of my supervisor I did so and made it right; I felt bad for making the mistake when I realized it also, not to mention the very night that it happened I had to rush home because my girlfriend told me she was having chest pains, her having been afraid she was having a heart attack I clocked out early taking an attendance point to go and rush her to the hospital. I knew that as a result of I would get a point added to my total and still decided her life is important enough to me to have left and gone to take care of her as it was four am in the morning. Being responsible for ones actions is just as much a part of learning to control ones ego and to not step on others toes in the same sense.

  • ali

    this is so true, i think that along with ego is pride sometimes when our pride and ego clash it make it that much harder to grasp onto reality.

  • Education01241976

    This was an awesome article. As a person that works really close with her boss, I have discovered that this article is truer than most people that reads it relize. I have seen some of the most talented people I’ve come across come in for an interview and totally oversell themselves. I don’t think some of them realize that they are coming over as having EGO larger than the person interviewing them, which cause them to come off as insecure and some times just all out rude. I think if more people read this article before interviewing for a job their would be alot more qualified, talented people in the business world.

  • DiamondNTheRough

    I use to have this ‘I can do anything you can do and do it better’ attitude at one point.  I always thought that other’s were beneath me when it came to perfecting anything.  I never looked to anyone for help because I always felt I could do it better myself.  Well going to school and experiencing ‘learning teams’ taught me what my real problem was, and it was trust.  I didn’t put trust in my fellow coworkers for fear that I would fail.  By being a part of a learning them and learing to trust it really help me see what my issues were and because of it makes me have more faith in people that I work with and my friends.

  • Ka_henderson2005

    I use to be a person that came across to others as having a big ego. I was not intentionaly bragging on myself, however I would focus on my own accomplishments more than others. A fellow classmate made me aware of my character flaw. After a self examanition I determined that my friend was correct in her accessment and I adjusted my attitude. The change made me more acessable to my co-workers and classmates. I became more of a team player and people enjoyed working with me more.

    • Wrecked Johnson

      What is an accessment

  • I don’t see myself as someone with a huge ego. I am someone puts myself down most of the time. I constantly worry am I going to fit? Are they talking about me behind my back? What did I do for people to hate me so bad? Will I ever be normal? As a child I didn’t live in the nicest house and got picked on very badly and beaten by my entire class the end of my 5th grade year. Why did my entire class beat me up? There was no reason I just feel they seen me as an easy target. That is just one thing has happened to me as a child that made me who I am today but I do not tend to have big ego I just tend to stay more to myself because I am always afraid of rejection.

  • Rabiia Abdul-Ali

    I have never been a person who had a huge ego, but when I landed my recent position I experienced some of the things that this lesson is touching on.  There are two support personnel in this office, myself and another woman.  To me, she is completely inept in every facet of her position, she is incapable of doing things that come naturally or easy to me, however, she is able to realize more benefits than I do.  I assumed it was because she is close friends with the supervisor because she is chosen to do tasks that she is not skilled to do and she is given certain perks than I am.  I also assumed that it was because of her time in the company and how many people she is close with.  I realized it bothered me because I felt that I was more qualified than she, and I wasn’t given the same benefit, thus our equal position s for me became unequal.   I had to swallow my pride and essentially tame my ego, and understand that instead ofn concentraiting on her and what she was getting, I had to hone my own skills and let my light shine until it was is recognized.  I’m still in transition, slowly but surely the higher-ups are beginning to take notice.  Hopefully, in a short time, I will have what I deserve.

  • Tamsimm75

    When I started my first job, which later became my career after undergrad, I thought I knew everything. My chip was I had a college degree and know one can tell me anything. What I did not learn in college was that daily interactions with people do not make you better them. I thought my clients and parents were beneath me because the parents were uneducated or under-educated. I finally ate humble pie when a parent put me in my place by saying the words, “She thinks she is better than me. As a black woman I never wanted to belittle other mothers; yet, I wanted respect as a young person in my field. I had to become humble and put myself in these parents shoes if I was going to be succesful in my job duties as well as building a repoire with my clients.

  • Becca S.

    Having a big ego at work will eventually lead to a very humbling experience.  It was through a humbling experience that I finally recognized my big ego and began working to change.  My ego was not based on fear (well maybe a bit) it was mostly that I was too proud and thought I was smarter and better than others.  I once worked at a resort with very poor middle management.  The HR manager especially was incompetent, rude, and dishonest (an opinion shared by most of the staff).  One morning I went to her office with a simple question about my paycheck that escalated into a shouting match that the CFO had to break up.  I was in the wrong for the way the situation played out and very badly represented myself and my department.  Fortunately, my boss gave me a second chance.  He had me write letters of apology to the HR manager and CFO which restored relationships and gave me a chance to evaluate my actions.  Humbling and embarrassing yes, but an awesome opportunity to grow and learn.

  • Erte Ferrand

    I agree 100%. After you have been hired for a job you go in on your first or on any other day acting like you are better then everyone. Just having a good attitude can take you long. On the other hand a bad attitude doesn’t. Remember there is always someone out there ready to take your spot.  

  • MS43

    I was in a team that was running for being The Alumni Association, we were just a lot and everyone wanted to be there because we were not the typical friends’ team, we were kind of a mix of everybody and we got confident, so we didn’t try that much. We were telling everybody things like “We are going to win for sure”, “They are not competent enough” and that kind of words that you say wwhen you are in high school. We were so wrong, we were getting so selfish that the team began to fall down, nobody wanted to stay, neither I. Our ego just broke us and we did not even continue in the competition. That’s the time when you realize that the ego will not bring anything good. We have to keep it to ourselves.

  • Tara93

    Very true..I can totally relate this to an experience of mine. My experience however is too private to share.

  • Adb94

    It can be hard to put your own opinions aside and admit that you are not going to be perfect or know everything. It is important to take take to learn from others and not always assume that you know best. In a job, respect is important on both sides – both from yourself and your boss or coworkers. I know when I have made a mistake in a previous job, I felt that I needed to defend myself and make excuses. After being told that I needed to act professionally and listen instead of continually trying to justify my actions, I learned that it is important to take into account how you portray yourself. Taming my ego is something I learned the hard way (by being told off by my manager) and I definitely understand now that by being able to admit to your mistakes and take responsibility, you will go further in your job or career.

  • Pdsully

    I Agree that it is important to tame ones ego.  If we have too strong of an ego we can become single minded and not be able to problem solve effectively because we will not consider every possible solution.  In a job it is important to be able to work successfully as a group in order to make decisions.  The most effective way to make a decision is to consider everyone’s ideas and respect constructive criticism of ones own ideas.  To do this we must first tame our ego. 

  • Texangirl72894

    I would have to agree with this. I am in drumline and I know people in it that act like they are the big shot and just too good to even come to practice. It’s annoying and no one really wants to be around them

  • Anonymous

    I have some experiences but I don’t wish to share them personally. I am trying to improve myself nevertheless.

  • Ashley L Ruiz

    An ego is something that each and every one of us has. The difference between good and poor employees is whether or not their ego is tamed. I do believe that we need to be confident but not egotistical and at times there is thin line between the two.
    There was one scenario in particular in which my boss was correcting me on an issue and I noticed I began to get defensive. I realized that I was not accepting the correction well and begin to keep quiet and just listen to what he had to say. At the end of the conversation I apologized for not doing my job as well as I could have and will try harder next time so that this issue does not happen again.
    The conversation was really hard for me, and as much as I wanted to get defensive I had to admit my failure and hold in my pride. I realized though that my boss was just doing his job in correcting me, he understood that mistakes are made and respected me more for accepting my failure.

  • A Hogan2

    This is so true. I was working in a group and unknowingly was letting my ego get in the way of my work. I was feeling kinda bad about myself and my abilities and thought that I needed to act confident to compensate. Unfortunately, our group ended up getting into many unnecessary arguments. If I would have just acted as myself and not worried about trying to make myself look good, our group would have finished our project faster and probably would have done a better job.

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.