It Isn’t Always About You

A powerful way to improve teamwork and collaboration is to control your self-focus.

We human beings are hard-wired to think about ourselves first: as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are egocentric creatures. And when the workplace pressures of time, stress and competition are added to the mix, it is no surprise that we tend to think first about ourselves and our own needs and concerns.

Yet some professionals struggle to connect with their colleagues and customers because they have too much self-orientation. This  hampers efforts to build empathy, credibility and trust. If things get out of hand it can lead to even more challenging behaviours like selfishness and narcissism.

There is an inevitable impact on teams: team dynamics can be delicate at the best of times, and our growing reliance on virtual communication and artificial intelligence can make managing these personality-driven variables even more complex. So this question of controlling self-focus deserves our attention.

Here are five behaviours that indicate a high degree of self-orientation that could hamper the morale and productivity of your teams. Think of these as warning signs if you see them consistently in yourself or in others:

  • Dominating every conversation. Frequently interrupting or talking over other people is an indicator of poor listening and elevated self-focus.
  • Craving attention. The need to always appear clever or to draw attention to oneself can crowd out and even alienate other contributors on the team.
  • Relating stories to oneself. Constantly relating other’s stories to one’s own experience is another sign of high self-orientation.
  • Self-referencing. Name-dropping or frequently referring to one’s credentials indicates a lack of confidence and is another warning sign.
  • Always having the last word. Another indicator of the need to dominate.

None of these is a disaster in itself, but a consistent pattern may indicate a harmful level of self-orientation. If you see these in yourself or receive such feedback, make an effort to dial them back. And if you see them in others, consider offering some thoughtful feedback to help build that person’s self-awareness.

What else can you do? One obvious way to connect with others and boost your credibility is simply to reduce your self-focus. In today’s ‘Hey, look at me!’ world, simply channeling attention away from yourself to another person can make you distinctive.

One approach is to talk less about yourself and show more interest in others. This builds rapport, empathy and trust, and you begin to pick up nuances and details because you are listening more attentively. Remember: we learn most when we listen, not when we speak.

Four simple tips to reduce self-focus and build credibility:

  • Talk less. Dial back your ‘airtime’ and say less about yourself.
  • Listen more. Once you’ve reduced the time you spend talking, devote that ‘spare’ time to listening to others.
  • Listen better. Use active listening skills: confirm understanding. Use their phrases and terminology. Show genuine interest. Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Commit to listening well without multi-tasking.
  • Ask intelligent questions. Good questions signal interest and engagement and often lead to new information and insights.

Beyond these communication steps, our unconscious physical and verbal behaviours can have an important impact on our professional image. Five suggestions to sharpen your awareness of unconscious behaviours and help you radiate more confidence:

  • Calm energy. Try to project calm, steady energy. Be relatively still whether sitting or standing, with relaxed, slow movements. Don’t fidget.
  • Comfortable with silence. Find a comfort level with pauses and silences: these allow people to think and ‘catch up’ with the discussion. Don’t feel compelled to fill every silence with words: it can make you appear insecure.
  • Focus. Concentrate on one issue at a time, get it sorted, then move to the next issue. This is in contrast to multi-tasking, which can convey a lack of control or even a sense of panic.
  • Emphasis. Speak in a measured way, taking time to emphasise points and conveying a sense of method. Don’t rush.
  • Brief questions. Keep your questions succinct and focused. This is in contrast to multi-part or ‘compound’ questions, which can be confusing and even irritating to listeners.

Thus two key ideas for leaders and would-be leaders: first, control your self-focus and look for opportunities to shift attention away from yourself toward others. Second, project calm and focused energy with your words and body language: you are in control of yourself and ready to deal with whatever comes up.