Conscious Use of Self covers a broad range of things we might want to change in our worlds. Deciding to try a new restaurant or buy a new car takes, figuring out how to deal with your kids or get your team to work better together, and making peace with your significant other all call some degree of Conscious Use of Self. Figuring how to consciously manage one’s self in such a range of situations may seem daunting.
Fortunately, there are only three keys areas of use of self that need to be mastered—Intention-Impact, Connection, and Ego Management.
From the previous article on Systems Thinking, we know that when we are a part of a human system, we make an impact whether we want to or not… whether we think we have or not. A system’s response to what we do is essentially feedback that tells us if we have accomplished what we want or not. Accordingly, it is important to be conscious of:
1. What our intentions are: Do you walk into a meeting with the intention simply to get through it, to make some difference in the success of the meeting, or do you have no conscious intention at all? Those that have no intention at all wind up being main contributors to bad meetings.
2. Whether or not our behavior is in sync with our intentions: If you had an intention to make a difference in the success of the meeting, were you silent the whole meeting? Argumentative? Helpful to others? Which behavior would be most in sync with your intention? If I want a satisfying relationship with my significant other, my kids, or my colleagues at work, am I consistently denigrating them or proving that I’m right and they’re wrong?
3. Whether or not our behavior has impacted the system in the way we want it to: Was the meeting successful, not just in your mind but in the minds of the others present? Are your important relationships satisfying to all parties, including you?
When we are not aware of our intentions or simply have none, and things don’t work out well, we tend to seek outside ourselves to discover why we are dissatisfied with our lives and whatever is going on around us. Do we operate as victims, believing ourselves to be powerless to change that which is dissatisfying?
Certainly, there are times that in spite of our clearest, most conscious intention and most considered action, things just don’t work out the way we want them to. Regardless, we still have choices about how we will respond to such situations: do I revert to victimhood or do I have a conscious intention to maintain a sense of positive esteem for myself and those I’m with?
On my first visit to Paris, my luggage didn’t get to me until four days into my vacation. Without a conscious intention to enjoy myself, I might have easily spent too many of my vacation moments righteously upset. I chose not to do that, and I had a marvelous time despite having to wash my underwear!
To accomplish our intentions, to manage change, to make a difference in the human systems in which we live and work, we need help. We can accomplish little of any significance by ourselves. Consequently, it is imperative, essential, and indispensable that we connect with others to accomplish the changes and other goals that we might have in mind. This is so important that we have an entire chapter on Support Systems. Think back to our example when you were continually arguing with your boss to the point of alienating her. On automatic and with the best of intentions, you were at risk of weakening a connection crucial to your success. Through high quality connections, high quality relationships, we have the support and the influence to accomplish our intentions.
As we monitor whether or not our behavior is having our intended impact, in our monitoring we must decide whether or not we are deepening our connections or weakening them.
We cannot connect with others if we are disconnected from our environment and those around us. If we try to move our intentions forward without being present to whether we are strengthening or weakening the connections with those from whom we need support, we may be left wondering why things don’t seem to be working.
Two things could show that we are not connecting effectively with those whose support we need:
1. We simply aren’t paying attention to the impact our actions are having on our important connections. The CEO of middle size organization confided in me once that his wife had just left him and taken the kids. He was distraught. I asked him if he’d seen it coming. He said that her leaving took him totally by surprise. I said, you probably weren’t paying attention and that was probably at least part of why she left. He sadly nodded his head. He said he thought everything was fine when it wasn’t.
Too often, we trust our own beliefs about what’s going on with those important to us at home and at work. Often those beliefs are wrong. Sound and Current Data from others are needed to know if our connections and influence are in good shape or not.
2. There are times when our supporters express disagreement with the intention or the goal we think is quite marvelous. Our supporters begin to feel not listened to and begin to distance themselves from us, weakening, if not breaking the needed connection. What we do on automatic when people differ from us is explored in depth in the chapters on Infinite Power and Learning from Differences.
The more our intentions are important to us, the more we need to attend to the connections with the others we need to help accomplish them. Of course, there is also the tendency to take for granted (pretty much the same as being on automatic) those with whom we are connected, as our distraught CEO did with his wife.
We define Ego as one’s sense of personal and social identity alloyed with our sense of self-importance and self-esteem. It is our perception of who we are interwoven with, or confounded by, our perceptions of what others think of us and of what we think of ourselves. If I use my intelligence (or my work, my skin color, my socio-economic status, my humor, etc.) as a source of self-esteem, then my ego would have me protect that idea of myself from perceived assaults. If the assault was from my having done something “stupid,” like accidently knocking over a glass of water, you could count on me to blame the glass or table as unstable or simply deny that I did it. I might also very easily interpret your disagreeing with me as an assault to my self-esteem and vigorously, even vehemently argue my case beyond the importance of the issue at hand.
Some of us have “needy egos” that need insatiable reinforcement of some trait or characteristic as perceived as conveying importance and esteem upon the owner—more money, more affection, more clothes, more power, more beauty, more achievement! Whatever the “more” is, there is never enough to fill our ego’s need for importance and esteem. Such specific characteristics (or things) can never really fill such needs.
This is a very simplified explanation of “ego” but hopefully it provides enough insight to understand a couple of ways that the beliefs and thoughts that come from our egos can drive our emotions and our behavior. Unless, that is, we are aware of egos and of the characteristics that we have attached to them. From such awareness, we enable ourselves to choose intentions and actions other than those our egos would have us follow and do.
For most of us, our ego issues are not humongous, yet they can still get in the way of our being effective. I have a colleague that whenever she perceives her competence is being challenged, she will retaliate rather vociferously though there may be no real challenge being offered. I’ve had many clients at risk of failing because they had the notion that asking their staff for support would have them appear weak when it was important to their egos to appear strong. You may have friends or colleagues who never seem to accept responsibility for whatever may not be working. Maybe they are trying to prove to themselves and to those around them that they are “Okay.”
What are your ego triggers? Is it important to your self-esteem to be seen as smart, friendly, knowledgeable, popular, well off, rational? We all have something or some things to which we have hooked our egos. The sooner you choose to acknowledge yours, the sooner you will be able consciously to choose beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions that will better move you toward your consciously chosen intentions and goals.
Want practical and powerful skills about how to use yourself to create positive change in your teams and organizations? Then take the exciting Dragon Principles Intensive in San Francisco or Columbia, MD. Go to Dragon Principles Intensive to find out more. We start in September!
For a powerful introduction, to the Dragon Principles take the one-day workshop, Conscious Use of Self for Organizational Change in June or August! There’s a discount if you register soon!
Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.
About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 39 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. After 25 years at Johns Hopkins, I founded the Center for Human Systems. I am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.