How to Work With a Self-Centered Person

Dear Yogesh,

I feel I am dealing with a bunch of self-obsessed co-workers and managers who think the world revolves around them only. I can understand this happening to my 14-year-old son knowing his age and adolescence but, expecting this from working adults seems tough. I am afraid if the world is getting filled with egoists?


Fed Up

self centered person


Dear Fed Up,

I have been through some similar challenges in my life. My parents encountered the same problem with their eldest son- which is me. As a fourteen-year-old kid, I was an average kid and was doing pretty well in the school and did not have any troubles.

I was mostly involved in myself and was the center of my little universe. My parents had a different approach, which I think had much value. They always said, “If you think you need help, go help someone.” And eventually, it became their prescription for me. They enrolled me in a nonprofit rehab house on the outskirts of the City which were 100 miles from home and wanted me to work there, all on my own.

In a way, I felt the freedom of being away from the restrictions of parents but had responsibilities too. I had to do everything on my own from finding transportation, luggage to arranging for supplies. There were eight volunteers (including me) and had to share a large dorm room, eat together and work as a team. Few of them had carpentry skills and few had coaches and supervisors to keep us all on the track. The families that moved in, were very much grateful and meeting with them and understanding their high expectations became paramount to us.

I was a life-changing experience. I moved from being self-centered to more of a giver and thinker for others. Here’s what it changed in me:

· I experienced the freedom and the fear of making choices on my own. Nobody would interfere or hold my hand to make sure I don’t mess up.

· I was accountable and responsible for my decisions and had to figure out everything about my commuting, and expense management with limited funds.

· I was responsible for other’s success and finally I could think about others and not me.

Well, that was not the end of learning, in fact, was the beginning. When it was the time to apply for college, my parents supported me with the college fees but with one condition. They offered to pay the fee only if my college was 1500 miles from the city and accordingly, I had two coasts to consider. They wanted me to come out of the nest.

Indeed, the experiences that I’ve realized so far have been incredible and I and my wife had been lucky enough to test these principles with the following younger generations. We don’t have children but, have twenty-four nieces and nephews. We asked a few of them to stay with us during the summer vacation and promised them of making their break fun and meaningful. But, also warned them that they’ll have to work a lot. They agreed, and we enrolled them in a nonprofit that served wounded warriors. Children were supposed to report there at sharp 8:00 am and had to bike five miles to get there. The challenge began with their route; just the half of the way was paved, and the rest was all mountain and single-tracks. Though they enjoyed and fell in love with mountain biking, the real challenge was still on its way.

I’ll talk about my 14-year-old nephew who was designated to belay on the climbing wall and high-ropes courses. In other words, he had to take care of the line that kept the wounded warriors from falling. And one day, he said he wanted to talk. Here’s what he shared:

“I worked today on the climbing wall with a guy who is partially paralyzed from an IED. He was struggling but doing really well. But then he said he needed to go to the bathroom. I said, ‘Sure,’ and he said, ‘You’ll need to help me.’ I had to help him get on and off the toilet! But he treated it like it was the most normal thing. He didn’t act embarrassed or sorry for himself. He was more worried about how I would feel!”

These kinds of experiences make people think beyond themselves.

In addition to this exposure, we involved him in certain domestic tasks as well; these included expense management with a specific weekly food budget, preparing two dinner meals per week—planning, shopping, preparing, and serving and also maintaining his bathroom, room, and the mountain bike. Initially, it was challenging for him. The first time he went for grocery shopping for a week, he froze in front of the deli counter, it took him half an hour when for the first time he cleaned his bathroom and so on…

So, are you still thinking that how do these strategies work only with the kids?? How to relate this to your co-workers??

Well, when you look at the employee’s career path, most of them deep-dive in their particular domains before they’re given a chance to go on-broad. This creates a mental barrier that keeps them from looking beyond their region or profession and they seldom get a chance to take a broader, enterprise-wide view. This, from the outside might appear self-centered or egotistical.

I want you to understand that it takes personal experience, not theoretical knowledge or lectures or sermons to change people’s perspective. Your key here is to find ways to develop cross-functional accountability in these employees— or find a role for each one of them that puts them in shoes of their peers and make them experience what other’s go through.

Things, of course, are not going to be easy because you might not always be in a position to create personal experiences for others, so here’s a piece of advice for you- Don’t assume you can change your colleague or co-worker who is self-centered or an egotistical person. Instead, be clear on what you can do without them and where all you want their support.

Best of luck,

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