“Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without in himself.” - Henry Ward Beecher

We all want to be known as being selfless and generous to a fault.  No one, including me, wants to admit to having a selfish interest in their relationships with others.  But because we don’t admit the possibility that our needs and desires may be driving our behavior and thoughts, we allow ourselves to withhold or manipulate in our relationships in an effort to get what we need.

When we teach conflict management (www.convergencelearning.com), we discuss the importance of getting in touch with your selfish interests.  When you do, you can identify what you feel is “under attack” by the other party with whom you are upset, disappointed, angry or hurt, so that you can begin to unhook yourself from the upset and explore potential solutions to get what you need AND what the other party needs, too.  And, as my partner Tamera Loerzel said in last week’s blog, Another Possible View, usually, we operate and communicate from only our interpretation of the situation, and when we stop to identify our view and our self interest, we can disclose that to the other party so they can disclose theirs. Because being selfish is considered un-cool, most of us aren’t able to enter into an honest conversation about our needs and allow others to express their needs to us in a safe and non-judging environment.  At work, our selfish interests usually lie in one of four categories (or a combination of these):

  • We want to make more money, and we certainly don’t want to make less
  • We want to have more time, and we certainly don’t want to have less time or have less control over my time
  • We want to look good, be held in high esteem by others, to be thought well of and promoted as “good” at what we do, and we certainly don’t want to look bad
  • We want to feel good, with less stress, strife, upset and commotion, certainly not more

I encourage you to consider that we all have needs and wants that drive us and that if you understand yours, you can express them, and possibly have them met.  As my mother would say, “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” 

Please do not hear me as saying that we should always put our needs first.  Sometimes, it’s freeing to acknowledge that you have some self interest at stake, but that your needs are less important than the needs of another, or the needs of your team as a whole.  If you’re self honest, you can admit your desires and then put them aside willingly, instead of begrudgingly finding yourself upset with a situation and not being clear that your self sacrifice has made you bitter.

Being selfish enough to admit you have needs, and then collaborating with others to get your needs met when they can be, and subordinating them for the good of the whole when they can’t, takes courage and vulnerability found in true leaders.  Are you brave enough to admit your needs to yourself and others?  Share your thoughts by posting a reply!