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Lisa Earle McLeod: Rescue yourself from your ego

Have you ever watched one of those television shows where people get advice from an expert? It’s an odd dynamic. People go on the shows for help, but when the experts weigh in, they become defensive and resist.

It’s an exaggerated version of what happens in any work setting. People are more open to the idea of coaching than the reality of it.

Two reality TV examples – Parents call in the “Supernanny” because their children are out of control. Yet when the expert nanny offers advice, the parents resist, deflect and deny, often telling the nanny she doesn’t understand their kids.

Watch any of the reality singing contest shows, and you’ll see contestants arguing with the judges’ critiques instead of listening to their advice and acting upon the suggestions.

Such is the nature of humans; we want to improve, but our ego makes it difficult to accept honest accurate critique.

If there’s one thing I would tell my younger self about coaching, it’s this: Solicit and accept as much expert feedback as you can get. Expert advice has been a catalyst in my career, but only when I had the good sense to put my ego aside and actually listen.

People often think of someone with a big ego as being extremely confident. In my experience, big egos are actually the antithesis of confidence. The ego resists change. It will do anything to defend the status quo. People with big egos constantly feel as if they have to prove themselves. They’re desperately afraid that the world will one day discover that they aren’t perfect. For instance, when Donald Trump makes a mistake, he digs in and defends it rather than change course; when Warren Buffett makes a mistake, he admits it and moves on.

Confident people who are at ease with themselves take constructive criticism in stride. They welcome and respond to feedback because they know that whatever is being critiqued is just one small part of who they are.

Humans have fairly predictable defense mechanisms. Here are three common ego-drive responses to constructive feedback:

Deflect – I can’t believe that you, of all people, are criticizing me when you’re the one who is so blankety-blank-blank. Translated: You need to change, not me.

Deny – You really don’t understand the particulars of this situation. My situation is different. True meaning: You’re wrong. I don’t need to change.

Defeat – You’re right, I’m a worthless slug. Nothing I ever do is right. It’s hopeless. In other words: I can’t change, so why should I try.

Recognize any of those? You can probably spot these responses in others more readily than you can recognize them in yourself. That’s natural, but not particularly helpful.

I work with a business mentor, Alan Weiss. When I attend his seminars, I’m stunned by the people who pay big money to be there yet waste time getting defensive when he critiques them. Over time, I’ve noticed, the most successful people take the advice; the least successful people resist it.

Changing yourself is a tough process; your ego wants to save you from all that work. The problem is, your ego doesn’t always know what’s best for you. If you want your life to stay exactly the same, listen to your ego. If you want your life to improve, listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about.