Over the years I have been fascinated how simple and sometimes trivial conversations at the workplace can become all heated up to the point of people even resorting to verbal abuses and sometimes even getting physical. When I speak to people about why is that people react in the way they do, the most common answer I get is that “Oh the animal instincts just take over”. Other answers being ” He crossed the limit” or “She needs to know to maintain her distance”. This kind of behaviour is not only harmful for the teams and the organisation, but if not controlled can even lead to legal issues due to health a safety reasons.
I wanted to find out what causes our animal instincts to take over. Most people related it to people’s ego’s. What is Ego?. Ego is a person’s sense of self esteem. self image or self importance. So what happens to our ego during those crucial moments
1. The Ego feels threatened
One of the first things that happens when we are confronted by a person or situation is that the Ego feels threatened and almost immediately builds its defense mechanism. It sends messages to your mind that you are under attack and hence need to protect yourself. Most of us have a good self esteem and believe that we are unique and different than everyone else. So when someone tries to confront your ideas or views, the ego sees it as a direct attack on the self esteem, your beliefs and values. You will see a change in the behaviour of the person when this happens. They will get impatient and start interrupting you in between wanting to make their point.
2. The Ego wants to be RIGHT
Have you noticed how difficult it is to admit that you were wrong. All of us believe that our views of the world , the work environment and life are justified and right. This is true when you view this in isolation and limit it to your view only. This is because your beliefs and views are formed based on your life experiences and thats what you have seen and understood to be right. When was the last time you saw someone start a conversation with “I know I’m wrong here, but I still want to say…”. Doesn’t happen!. At best you might hear something like “I could be wrong, BUT..”. The BUT is a big but which is trying to justify your beliefs. The point here is not that we should not express our views. However be prepared to graciously accept that you were wrong. People will respect you for that.
3. The Ego tends to forget reasoning and practicality
Once the Ego is in play, all reasoning and practicality goes out of the door. You will observe that no matter what you say or do, the person will refuse to listen, let alone accept. This is probably the most dangerous stage as it is almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation with the person. The best strategy at this point is to take a break and reconvene after a while when emotions have settled down.