The inspiration for this month’s post originated from an e-mail I recently received from a colleague. The colleague was reporting on an outcome that was clearly the result of a team effort. Besides being irritating, the extreme overuse of the first-person singular pronoun, “I” completely dominated the report. I hope it was an honest mistake, but I couldn’t help but think how something like this could negatively impact trust and team moral.
Years ago, someone called me out on this behavior, and since then I have made an honest effort to take stock and remember “we” more than “I”. Unfortunately, I probably still use it way too often…
Cooperation versus competition
The overuse of first-person, singular pronouns highlights the self, and – in extreme cases – it may be part of a strategy to gain more attention from others. Unfortunately, some of the people we work with are just plain self-absorbed. At their core, they are overly preoccupied with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how others perceive them. This is not to be confused with a healthy, normal narcissism that we all need to responsibly take care of ourselves.
Dr. Charles Derber said, “The quality of any interaction depends on the tendencies of those involved to seek and share attention. Competition develops when people seek to focus attention mainly on themselves; cooperation occurs when the participants are willing and able to give it.”
According to Dr. Derber, cooperation is a learned habit, essential to the success and longevity of a group. There is a fine line between being proud of an individual accomplishment, especially if it truly is hard-won, and consciously or subconsciously taking credit for the accomplishments of the team in order to elevate oneself in the eyes of the community or one’s peers. And sometimes it’s about more than blatantly taking credit…think about all your daily interactions with those around you. Some people require constant attention.
Boring, self-absorbed ball hogs
I try to avoid hard-core narcissistic and negative people. Unfortunately, that is not always possible. So what do you do if you’re stuck with one? Here are a few options:
- Address it. Be honest and tell them – don’t let it become a stumbling block for you or the team. Remember there is no “I” in team. Who knows, maybe they’re not aware of it, and are willing to try to do better. If we avoid constructive confrontation, we are left to maneuver around or tolerate the annoying behaviors of those with whom we interact in our personal lives, work settings, or in public.
- Ignore it. Remember: self-centered, “competitive” people thrive on attention. Don’t give it to them.
- Deflect it. After giving the competitive person sufficient time to go on and on, change the subject by asking a direct question that has nothing to do with them.
- Validate it. Stroke the person’s ego by validating his/her point of view, and then offer your own. Remember, they just want to be acknowledged for being right.
- Let it go. It’s not worth the stress to go back and forth with someone who is driven by his or her ego; pick your battles.
What if it’s you?
Take stock! Have you ever taken stock of the personal pronouns you use in your everyday conversation? How much of your conversation is about YOU? Would others rate your conversation cooperative or competitive? Think about it: how much of what we do can we really take credit for? Sincere humility is getting harder to find in the “selfie” generation.
If you think you might be trying to grab all the attention, try this: encourage and highlight the “we,” and make acknowledgements and supportive statements where appropriate. If you are going to err, do so on the side of caution and be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” (Dale Carnegie, circa 1936). Try to cut back on the use of “I,” especially when trust has not yet been established.
Taking a moment to recognize people for their contribution and being cooperative in our conversation is the easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to build trust and boost morale.