Debbie works with someone who constantly needs to be the center of attention. Carolyn likes to do most of the talking and it’s almost always about herself – her day, her job, her plans, and her goals. To be fair, she has a number of good qualities as well – she’s attractive, energetic, fun-loving, and intelligent. But because she doesn’t focus on anyone except herself, she eventually wears her relationships out.
When Debbie tries to shift the conversation to insert her insights, her needs, or her suggestions, she finds that Carolyn dismisses her ideas and quickly returns to promoting her own perspective. If she presses her point, Carolyn’s arrogant attitude causes her to become critical and even insulting. Carolyn lacks empathy, making it hard for her to comprehend, much less respond to how Debbie is feeling.
Self-absorbed individuals are difficult to work with because they have an exaggerated belief about their importance. They think their ideas, talents, intellect, and solutions are superior to what anyone else could offer. Their conviction that they possess unparalleled capabilities causes them to concentrate exclusively on their point of view.
Debbie has stopped asserting herself because she’s come to feel that her needs are insignificant in her relationship with Carolyn. Her frequent criticism has eroded her self-confidence. No matter how hard she tries, she’s never able to meet her colleague’s needs – and Carolyn’s not shy about letting her know it.
Carolyn doesn’t know it, but her work group is in serious trouble. While on the surface Debbie has demure manner, inside she’s filled with resentment and anger. She’s sick and tired of listening to Carolyn fueling her self-importance by boasting about herself while belittling others. The strain of living with her sarcastic sense of humor – especially since it’s often directed toward her – has driven Debbie into despair.
Most people don’t change their situation until they come to the point that they’re so unhappy they feel they just can’t stand it anymore. And then they still hope to improve their job situation by having the other person change. For years Debbie has thought to herself, “I’ll do that for her and then she’ll do this for me.” Often she’s bemoaned, “If only she would listen … be fair … appreciate me.”
But nothing has changed because self-absorbed people see absolutely no need to do anything different from what they’re doing. Carolyn can’t comprehend that her attitudes and actions could be creating problems. Her superiority complex makes her immune to feedback, arguments, or threats. Until Debbie decides that she’s powerless to change Carolyn, she’ll remain extremely frustrated.
To change a bad relationship you have to change yourself. You need to identify your inner resources – your character strengths and interpersonal strengths – that are the enablers of being able to successfully manage your situation. Developing your strengths gives you the capability to manage your own emotions and generate proactive responses to your coworkers. People who consistently function at their best know and use their strengths to achieve in success in their relationships.
Using your strengths will build your sense of self-worth so that you’ll be able to weather the criticism that will inevitably result when you change the rules of how you’re willing to relate to a coworker. Think of a time that you have been successful in the past in another aspect of your life. Write down the personal characteristics and interpersonal skills that you used in order to prevail. Pull that list out whenever a coworker is trying to make you feel small and powerless.
Reframe your colleague’s criticisms. When she tells you that you’re too sensitive, tell yourself that you have understanding and empathy for others. When she says that you’re demanding, tell yourself that it’s important to assert what you need to be happy in your job. When she claims that you’re rigid, tell yourself that you’re sticking to your values. When she declares that you’re difficult, tell yourself that win-win outcomes are a good thing.
If you have to work with someone who tends to be self-absorbed, then you’ll have to look elsewhere for satisfaction of some of your needs. What outside interests and activities would give you gratification? Which friendships could you cultivate that would provide contact with people who are interested in your feelings?
Be aware that your coworker’s boundless self-absorption and their accompanying criticism of people is preposterous. When you hear it, smile. It’s not about you. It’s about their needing to boost their ego by appearing to be better than others.