In a world where we are constantly connected and almost always working with others to achieve our goals, selfishness can lead us onto the fast track of failure. The boon of our technological world is that we can connect and trade ideas with others anywhere at any time. The bane of this perpetual ability to post and like and share is that it fosters a need for comparison and showmanship. This drive can push people to make everything about themselves, desiring the spotlight at every turn. If we lived inside the vacuum of our own lives and never interacted with others, then this would be fine.
But the thing is, we don’t.
We work on teams or with partners, and this selfish mentality puts your success and the success of those around you at risk. In the realm of team sports even, the greatest of the greats cannot pull off the one-man show. Even looking at superstars like Michael Jordan and Lebron James, these behemoths of the industry seldom can carry the whole team on their back for four quarters straight. (Are there moments where it happens? Yes. Is it a consistent possibility? No way. It’s a long game. It’s a long season.) If it’s a five-man group going for the win, and one of them needs to feed their ego rather than feed the goals of the team, I think we can all understand exactly where we’re going to end up.
This same mentality applies to the working arena as well. Have you ever been put on a project with some team members, and someone is more focused on the credit they’ll get on the project rather than a fruitful outcome? This behavior is detrimental and without self-reflection and reassessment, it will continue to erode the foundations of a successful team.
As mentioned above, it’s not entirely their fault. With social media and portable phones, our society and system have conditioned us to always be seeking external validation for our internal desires (i.e. likes, shares, retweets, and so on). And maybe our own circumstances have put us in a position where this kind of competition is necessary. These circumstances could be personal and they can vary greatly, from perhaps having parents that never provided one attention in their youth, or maybe a personality trait that drives one to seek attention and glory.
There is a difference, though, between self-preservation and selfishness. If you need credit on a project to help with a promotion so you can bring home some more cash to help your family, that’s an entirely different scenario and set of motivations compared to the person that just wants to be the office alpha. There is absolutely nothing wrong when you’re working to be seen or recognized, or attain the means to reach your basic levels of comfort and well-being. After all, we do have lives outside of the teams we work with. But once those base levels are met, and there is still this undulating need to put the self over all else, that’s when self-preservation turns into toxic selfishness which, ultimately, could land everyone, including the selfish person, at the bottom of the pit.
So how can we stave off this detrimental behavior?
Selfishness is one of the most difficult attributes to overcome by one’s self because if one is selfish, then they are probably prone to ignoring or missing some of the signs that show they are selfish.
One of the key attributes in warding off this behavior is a commitment to attentive listening. By hearing the needs, goals, and desires of the group and really processing what that means, one is able to step back and compare that to their own goals. This cross-referencing is a way to self-check if the base-level needs of the person are being met, if their goals line-up with the team’s goals, and if any of their own goals are superfluous beyond the base-level needs. A sure-fire way to attend to and nip these traits in the bud is having systems in place to understand your human capital, whether those systems be team-building exercises, behavioral assessments (such as the one Profile provides), or even having casual conversations with your co-workers. Whichever we choose, all of these measures provide one extra step in ensuring we get better at understanding ourselves and others.