Establishing boundaries is key to building and maintaining healthy relationships. By communicating and upholding our limits, we can positively engage with those around us. And while this can be particularly difficult when dealing with a boss or coworker who is an egomaniac, it is also necessary. Without boundaries, our needs and wants will get crushed under their whims. Still, even if we manage to keep our boundaries heard and respected, it is easy to misstep with an egomaniac, resulting in a very disruptive and draining workplace. Everyday situations can implode as we champion our cause or attempt to lead our project.
So, what can you do to avoid hidden minefields when engaging with a colleague who has a egomaniacal personality? Here are some tips that can help keep the workplace calm so you can soldier on.
Don’t give labels too much credence
Perhaps you are a licensed therapist who has the necessary expertise to diagnose a personality disorder… but I am not. As humans, we love to label things, including putting people in tidy, little boxes. To some degree, it is necessary. If we didn’t group information by association, we would be completely overwhelmed as we attempt to sort through all the new data in our daily lives.
As someone who is not a therapist, I might observe that someone exhibits egomaniacal traits, but it is important to remember that they could just be tendencies or a cover for insecurities. There are myriad mannerisms or habits that appear similar, but can have other root causes. When we label someone as an egomaniac (or any label, really) and think of that as their only identity, we do a disservice to both that person and our working relationship with them. It can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where we only see the behaviors that fuel the “diagnosis,” and consciously or subconsciously ignore contrary behaviors or other redeeming qualities. It leaves little to no room for growth in the workplace relationship and can add to the strain.
Don’t try to direct them
Now that we have a proper headspace for engagement, one of the first things to keep in mind is that egomaniacs do not respond well to being given instructions. Control and a sense of authority mean a great deal to them, and they struggle with losing it. This dynamic can be difficult in a workspace where individuals need to accomplish specific tasks for the group to function.
One way to work around this is to affirm your coworker’s ideas and work as much as possible. Try redirecting the conversation by using their idea as a springboard to introduce your idea. Tell them their idea or what they’ve done so far is excellent, and then ask their opinion on a few ways it can be tweaked. By offering options, they get to maintain ownership of the idea/project, even if changes are made. It is a much more palatable and less hostile adjustment for everyone.
Don’t argue with them
Arguing with a colleague is sometimes unavoidable, so if you must engage, pick your battles and be purposeful with your battle plan. Egomaniacs struggle to admit they were wrong, so it is best to bend where you can. When it comes to the areas where you can’t bend, the best plan of attack is to not attack… at least not directly. Telling them flat out what they did wrong can put their guard up and result in things getting ugly. A better approach is to ask questions that help the boss or coworker “discover” the flaws on their own. This approach provides more room for dialogue regarding possible solutions, and space for working towards actual resolution.
Don’t try to “fix” them
It can be tempting to try to “fix” someone else’s character flaws. Perhaps, altruistically, you want the best for them, so you think you should tell them how to overcome their shortcomings. Or maybe you just no longer want to deal with their frustrating/annoying habits. With some coworkers, you can develop friendships that allow you to challenge each other in these kinds of ways. However, when it comes to a coworker with egomaniacal tendencies, tread carefully. Pointing out a colleague’s error on a project should always be handled delicately. Pointing out a character flaw is a much more tender spot, and the conversation isn’t likely to be forgotten.
It is not your job to fix an egomaniac. It is your job to work effectively with them while maintaining healthy boundaries. You are in charge of your own decisions, not theirs. If it becomes an unhealthy working relationship, you may need to bring it to the attention of HR or your superiors. Do not attempt to play therapist. Once words are spoken, they cannot be taken back and can permanently damage a relationship.
So, friends, if you do suspect you have an egomaniac in your workplace, what should you do? Do your best to keep your headspace healthy, and stay rooted in other positive relationships, otherwise that relationship can begin to feel all-consuming. Without others to help you stay balanced, it can be easy to lose sight of your ideals and goals. I truly hope you didn’t need the information in this article, but if you did, I hope you stay healthy and can make smart choices as you engage with those around you.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of IEEE or IEEE-USA.