It is a part of our hard-wired human instinct to be selfish – to some extent. To want to satisfy your need for things and circumstances to be in your favor is pretty normal…until it’s taken to the extreme. Selfishness in the workplace – when kept in check and displayed responsibly and intelligently – can absolutely mean you are hungry, ambitious, and you have the drive to achieve excellence and you simply want the credit for it and you want to earn the rewards and opportunity that come with accomplishment.
Then there are the greedy, miserable, and horrible “me monsters” – as my friend, Steven, calls them. They believe that they are all about survival of the fittest [and they are the fittest] and showing the workplace [and sometimes the world] that they are the boss and control of everything around them. The the rules of acceptable workplace behaviors and human kindness don’t apply to them. These mean, monstrous, and truly malignant people are the kind that you want to deal with using extra care, before you also become a victim to their gross instincts.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SELFISHNESS
According to Dr. John A. Johnson, “The label ‘self-care’ refers to prioritizing your own physical health and psychological well-being by engaging in good eating habits, exercise, sleep, relaxation, and enjoyable activities every day. Proponents of self-care like to point out that unless we take care of ourselves first, we will not be well enough to help and take care of others.” This can be considered “good selfishness”.
Then there is the one-sided | win-lose scenarios that can be considered “bad selfishness”. “This occurs when negative consequences outweigh the temporary gains. Even mere emotional manipulation can have disastrous long-term consequences. If you exploit people they become less likely to cooperate with you voluntarily.” They may become more rigid and distrustful around you to an extreme level. More importantly, “someone who engages in emotional manipulation to get what he or she wants develops a reputation as someone not worth dealing with, someone to shun and avoid. Reputation is no trivial thing, because happiness is very unlikely to be achieved alone, in isolation from the rest of society.” To be happy in our personal and professional lives, we – all of us – need a network of people in our lives who like, love, support, and respect us, and to build such a network, we need to play nicely and respectfully with others under all circumstances.
Objectively, selfishness is sign of weakness and shows a profound lack of a moral center, the selfish person refuses to give some of their time, honesty, expertise, or effort to others because they are afraid they may not reap any reward or gain any benefit from doing so.
We all have experiences; amazing, good, bad, scary, exciting, bizarre, hilarious, and devastating. Selfish people are those who lack empathy and who immediately try to one-up your moment or diminish the impact of your experience. They are people who disregard rules that apply to everyone else and expect exceptions to be made for them specifically because they are infinitely more important than their colleagues. These people are those that impede and – at times – hurt the culture of the company and the morale of the team they work with.
5 WAYS TO DEAL WITH SELFISH PEOPLE IN THE WORKPLACE
TRY TO WIN THEM OVER: If this is a new working relationship and you recognize you have one or more “me monsters” on your team – let them know they you are there to help, support, and work collaboratively with them. This may help them feel as though they can let their walls down with you. That you don’t have an agenda other than helping the team and each individual deliver great results that are aligned with the collective team’s goals and objectives. Though most people are inherently selfish and – likely – narcissistic, there are those who have had previous experiences that make them cautious of others and recognize they have to always watch out for #1 – themselves. Creating a genuine connection may help them recognize you are in their corner.
ADDRESS THEM DIRECTLY: We all know who the “me monsters” are by reputation and – probably – by experience. The right moment to address them is exactly when they display their pestilential personality. When they will approach you for something that will benefit them in some way [and there is a very clear lack of benefit for others or for the organization]. You can respond to this by asking them to clearly define what the benefit for the team or project is? Lacking any sort of ability to bring alignment of their request to anything other than their how it supports their personal agenda – they will likely attempt to guilt you into supporting their request or make thinly disguised|veiled threats implying you need them more than they need you and it would be detrimental for you to not allow them to do what they are requesting to do. Let them know – without mincing words but, respectfully – that you are on to them and why you cannot support their need or approve their request [and then stick to your guns].
RESTATE & REPEAT: Selfish people don’t give one moment of thought or concern to what another person is saying. They babble on and on about their problems or experiences or how much more they have endured in their lives and completely ignore what you have to say about yours. One way to deal with their ignorance is by insisting they listen to you and by requiring them to respond. Restate and repeat what you have to say until you receive an acceptable response or commitment. In the workplace, selfishness often takes form in upward delegation – me monsters will tell you how swamped they are with other work to support the team’s initiatives, they will be late with assignments that your team needs in order to proceed, and/or they will be the one person not to deliver strong results. They will ask others to take on projects assigned to them. By communicating, clearly, your needs and the why behind the request and having them verbally commit to the assignment you will help them understand it is not optional that they support the team and organization.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS: It will benefit the future of the working relationship to set clear limits with these people. If they have no respect for the amount of investments you put into the relationship and how little they return that investment and offer no support or empathy, you must clearly articulate to them that they must not expect support or any sort of concession from you as it relates to your working relationship. Inside an organization – teams cannot function effectively if any individual agenda trumps the organization’s vision and values. Let each member of your team understand that your decisions must be aligned with the company objectives which means placing the company and team’s needs above each individual’s needs, at times.
WITHDRAW FROM THEM: Simply put – walk away from them. Selfish people typically have an inflated sense of self-worth and importance. People who are one-sided and – frequently – manipulative will quickly recognize that you are no longer lending your time and ear to them. Not surprisingly, instead of looking inward they will be quick to confront you as to “what your issue is” with them. This is a perfect opportunity – if you haven’t done so already – to speak up. Letting them understand that you no longer have the time or the willingness to be their sounding board or support their agenda will help bring peace to your portion of the relationship and will clearly articulate to them that you know who they are and that you don’t respect what it is they represent. Being direct with your colleagues when it relates specifically to them and their behaviors [in lieu of gossiping or passive aggressive behaviors] always will support a relationship and reputation built on trust, credibility, and authenticity and that is extremely valuable in the workplace.