Get what you want at work

How balancing confidence and cockiness can lead to success in the workplace

Get what you want at work

How balancing confidence and cockiness can lead to success in the workplace

You know the type. Their ego walks in the door before they do. They love talking about how good they are and what they’ve achieved, and have little or no self-awareness. Their belief in themselves often outweighs their interest, or desire, to understand the needs of others. Their concern is with themselves and how things impact them. Yep, they have fallen prey to the ‘ego monkey’, that silent whisperer that sits on their shoulder and tells them that people are much more interested in them than they actually are. Their ego distorts their perspective. It happens easily and it’s damaging to them and the people around them.

But not all ego is bad. Ego is described as a person’s level of self-worth or self-belief. We all need a healthy level of ego to achieve what we do in life, work and relationships. In fact, we all deserve it. But when it tips over to arrogance it is unhealthy and can distance us from the people around us and limit our own personal growth.

It gets in the way by making us no longer as open to feedback from others, not to mention less enjoyable to be around. If you believe you are better than someone else, they will sense it, and your words won’t make a difference. After all, people hear your content, but they smell your intent.

There are many diagnostic tools to measure the culture of an organisation. One that I like is Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory tool, which allows organisations to understand what type of culture they have and, more deeply, the behaviours and performance of their people.

In its simplest explanation, the data is split into three categories:

  1. Aggressive and defensive: These cultures are highly competitive with each other. They remain in silos, hold back information, and do not value collaboration. This leads to mixed performance and volatility.
  2. Passive/defensive: These cultures are nice. Nice is good but it’s often ineffective in pushing things forward. People are not comfortable with challenging the status quo, and innovation and creativity do not occur. People are not comfortable taking risks or being vulnerable.
  3. Constructive: These are cultures that get things done. They deal with conflict in a healthy way. They hold each other to account and push ideas and strategies forward, which leads to effectiveness and sustainability.

While we need a combination of all of these styles for an organisation and its people to perform at their best, we mostly need the constructive style of leading and dealing with each other. This can push through the awkwardness of tough situations and conversations and deal with things as they arise. This is where we are at our most productive, highly engaged, and profitable or successful.

When there are unhealthy egos, an arrogant culture permeates and creates high levels of competition. It’s survival of the fittest. Conflict, the unhealthy type, is the norm. Blaming and finger-pointing become the way of thinking, rather than asking, ‘How do we work through the issue?’ These cultures are toxic. There are some industries that have higher levels of this than others, such as consulting, financial services, the legal profession, property and sport. But these cultures are not ideal.

So, what would the opposite look like? A humble workplace means people are interested in working as one and collaborating first. Creativity thrives because people are OK with taking risks; people choose to work together and celebrate and work with differences; leaders reveal their flaws and work around them rather than hiding them; and people are committed to growing each other, not bringing each other down.

Sometimes we see confidence as cockiness because our relationship with confident people is skewed. Confidence is not the enemy; arrogance is.

How do we build great relationships and make great decisions to create more constructive cultures and relationships? Start with how we communicate and collaborate.

We need conversations, not accusations. Arrogance does not hide when we work and talk with people, nor does humility. The difference is your intent.

Before you have that conversation, be still; breathe. Ask yourself: what am I bringing to the conversation that will serve it? What am I bringing to the conversation that will detract from it? My attitude? My thinking?

How do we balance cockiness and confidence? Work on yourself first and take responsibility for how you treat others. That’s when humility follows.


Georgia Murch is an expert in creating feedback cultures. She is the bestselling author of Fixing Feedback and has just launched her new book, Feedback Flow: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to Embed Change 90 Days. For more information, visit www.georgiamurch.com.

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