We are all innately selfish to some degree. The real challenge is achieving a balance of “healthy selfishness” that allows you become self-focused, instead of self-involved.
As a workplace psychology researcher, I’ve spent more than 30 years helping companies navigate overly selfish employees, particularly the ones whose behavior can be harmful to their teammates.
Here are five toxic phrases highly selfish and entitled individuals always use — and how to deal with them:
1. “This feedback is insulting.”
Entitled people interpret any constructive feedback as a personal attack. They refuse to accept the universal truth that there’s always room for growth.
They believe that they can do no wrong, which makes them hypersensitive to any suggestion that their work could use improvement.
2. “My ideas are valuable and always merit serious consideration.”
No matter how mediocre they actually are, selfish people tend to assume that they always bring exceptional value to others.
They disregard the truth that most of our ideas, opinions and suggestions carry flaws, regardless of the effort we invest in them.
3. “Their success comes at the expense of my own.”
A highly selfish person tends to be less successful than someone who channels their self-centered tendencies into helping others.
Since they struggle to see the value in supporting those around them, they think other people’s wins are unfair and the result of special treatment.
4. “Why are you always trying to control me?”
Entitled people strongly dislike bosses who give directions or set clear expectations. To them, a manager’s instructions are, at best, just suggestions, or at worst, an attempt to mistreat them.
5. “You’re being disrespectful by not agreeing with me.”
Entitled people expect recognition for their experience and perspectives, and show little interest in learning from others.
So, when someone offers a different perspective, they don’t see it as a chance to learn, but as a sign of ignorance.
1. Avoid them, if and when possible.
Engaging with selfish people usually leads to negative results. Unfortunately, they’re widespread, so learning to deal with them is essential for shaping your own success and future.
And sometimes, you have to speak up, if only for your own peace of mind.
2. Set clear boundaries.
Call them out when their behavior becomes too much.
Pose questions like: “Could you clarify how this behavior benefits the company?” or “Do you genuinely believe this behavior serves your own best interests?”
At the very least, you can make clear that their behavior isn’t acceptable to you and is harmful to your working relationship.
3. Educate them on the risks they face.
Selfishness has many negative impacts you can bring up.
For example, you could say, “If you only focus on what fits your needs, you’ll get tunnel vision. This affects everything from tasks to interactions to learning, and it won’t serve you in the long run.”
Or, “If you see everything as a personal offense, you will be constantly frustrated, unfulfilled and burdened by negative thoughts about others. Isn’t that exhausting?
In both instances, know that you may not get the response you had hoped. But if you approach the conversation from an authentic place, you might see a breakthrough.
Stefan Falk is an executive coach, workplace psychology expert, and author of “Intrinsic Motivation: Learn to Love Your Work and Succeed as Never Before.” A McKinsey & Company alumnus, he has trained over 4,000 leaders across more than 60 organizations and helped drive transformations valued in excess of $2 billion. Follow him on LinkedIn.
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