Ego is such a dirty word but does it need polishing

When we meet someone new who may assist us to build our careers or connect with us on a personal level we want that person to like us. We don’t want to do or say anything that may jeopardise this burgeoning relationship. We don’t judge; we listen, ask questions, and validate the other person’s opinions. Even if we think their ideas are crazy or just plain wrong we validate because we are kind and because we want to be liked. This is a basic communication strategy. Quite easy to achieve, right? Unfortunately, not always.

When someone says something we don’t agree with we just can’t help ourselves, we get behind that Bench, grab that gavel and judge like Judy! A quick scan of any blog, post, or celebrity update will reveal a plethora of web browsing critics filling up comments sections with judgements scathing enough to make a death row prisoner cry. And leading the prosecution is our learned friend ego!

So why do we struggle to validate the opinions of others? When we consciously criticise and judge others it is our ego that is in control. Once ego takes over the conversation and rapport is killed. When we are on the receiving end of an ego response we feel attacked. When we feel attacked the logical part of our mind shuts down and our brain prepares to fight. “Contradicting people does not build relationships it breaks them.” (Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends & Influence People)

A couple of clever Nobel Prize winners, John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut, took some willing healthy humans and used cutting edge research, and their own experiences, to help us understand what happens when our ego gets in the way of good conversation.

• “So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.” (Neffinger & Kohut Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential)

The next time you are conversing with a new person and get the desire to take out your dirty ego to polish off a conversation; don’t! Suspending your ego will build rapport and create healthy, safe relationships. Suspending the ego means we put our own feelings, opinions, and ideas aside and we make a conscious decision to ignore our strong longing to be right and to “correct” others. Suspending our ego means we don’t let ego take control in situations where we don’t agree with other opinions, ideas and beliefs.

We have now locked up that clever criminal ego. We have mastered our validation responses to opinions that we may not agree with, and we are getting along just fine with this new person. But are we really? We are keeping our ego at bay, and we are validating opinions, but can we really say that we are listening and paying attention? What’s a great listener anyway? Well, that question is explored in my next blog!

“There’s no ego when you’re a ukulele player.” – Jake Shimabukuro

You can be right, or you can be happy.

You can be right, or you can be happy.

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