Ego is the enemy!

Caging the beast

Story category: red teaming

Story tags: red team, ego

Ego is the enemy, and your ego loves you to death. Ego wants us to be number one. Ego wants us to be and feel better than others. Ego wants that others listen to us instead that we listen to them.  Ego takes credit for success but blames failure on external conditions. Ego does not accept that we make mistakes.  Ego is an obstacle when it comes to leading, learning, decision making, and maintaining productive connections to others. As this is an issue we have seen within our organization, we assume its also an issue in other organizations; therefore, we would like to share some of our ego-mitigation techniques that we use within our teams.


1. Go into situations thinking you might be wrong/don’t have the full picture.


If your starting position is one of humility, then your ego does not get dug into being right. Once you think you are right, especially when you declare it to others, you dig yourself into a combat position. If you dig yourself in deep enough, it is very hard to move yourself out of that position. Important here is that if you are “faking” humility it will not work as others will smell your true intention (your true intention has a smell), and your ego still gets triggered. Practice this idea till you have a deep ingrained belief that you truly do not have all the answers and that your view is limited to your own perspective.

Use as default mode: the other knows something I’m missing.


2. Practice to see that there is always more than one answer to a question/problem.


Practice to recognize that what you see is not all there is to see, that you look at things through a filter (culture, schooling, position, experience, …), that you look at things from a certain perspective/viewpoint/angle/proximity to the issue, and that what you know is not the only solution to a problem. Our ego is hung up on getting people to follow our way, our ideas, and our experience. Realize that there are multiple roads that lead to Rome, and that it matters that we get to Rome, not that we pushed our route through at the expense of the team with no other purpose than to stroke our own ego.

Use as default mode: you go with the plan of the other; if the plan is 80% effective, then go with it and support the other to be successful.


3.Ask earnest questions and listen!


Ego wants to send messages, not receive them, and ego wants others to listen to us instead that we must listen to others. The issue is that when you do the talking, you are unable listen and process information. So, when your ego is pushing your “talk” button it is preventing you from learning new information/perspectives. Therefore, ask “earnest” questions and resist the urge to talk.

Use as default mode: start with listening and don’t open your mouth (physical protocol) unless it’s to ask questions.


4. Separate problem from person 


Ego wants to protect our self-worth and self-image; it does so by shading us from the truth. Detachment is a state where you can sperate your awareness from the things you feel to make rational decisions. 

Here are a few protocols to detach:

Separate “problem” from “self”; instead of “I have a problem with X…”, describe it in the following way “X has the following problem…”.

Look at “problem” and “self” from 3rd person view; instead of “something went wrong and what was my part in the problem…”, state it in the following way “what happened and what could Arthur have done differently to…”.

Use roles to detach; when receiving feedback on your work, decisions, ideas, and plans use for example the Debono thinking hats to assign a role to create detachment. When somebody wears the black hat its their role to come up with risks and issues, it becomes less emotional and more of a rational role-playing game.


5. Write your true intentions on paper!


This is a detachment method in which you reflect on the true intentions of your ego and put them on paper; this helps to detach and reflect as now your driving factors are external and you can read them to reflect on them. 

To repeat this important point once more: your real intentions ooze through as your intentions have a smell. If your ego places yourself above another person that person will see it in your behavior. When your ego wants to show off how much you know, it is going to leave a stench. No matter how much you are trying to cover it up or trying to be an actor…the smell of our intention will drive out any cover of perfume we use to mask it (sweet words, fake compliments…). 

The first step in this protocol is to write down the real intention that your ego has going into, for example, a meeting:


    - My intention is to show them I’m right.


    - My intention is to show them who is boss.


    - My intention is to punish them for not listening to me.


    - My intention is to educate them in my ideas.


    - My intention is that they will do it my way as I know best.


     - …


The second step is to imagine that your true intention will appear in written form on your forehead, and everybody will be able to see it. What can you do, with honest humility, to have an intention appear on your forehead that is focused on truly doing the best for the team, the team goal, and an improved relationship with other team members? 

You’re feeling, and the observation of your feeling are two different things.

When practicing these techniques, of which in future stories we will cover more, you will see that you’re feeling, and the observation of your feeling are two different things. You will be able to recognize when your ego is jumping up and giving you an emotion that will drive your behavior. However, once you start to recognize and observe it (not be one with it) you will be able tame your ego.


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