Bully And Big Egos


I am a construction foreman looking for answers when I happened upon your fantastic website. I am hoping that you could shed some light on this subject. Two of the men that work for me have big BIG egos. One is 50 yrs old and the other is early thirties. They both have lots of experience and are great hands, but they constantly butt heads. The older man KNOWS that his way is always right, and pushes the younger guy’s buttons seemingly to punish him. The younger guy believes he is always the star of the show, and will beat himself to death, to not take suggestions from the other guy. Is there some way to get these two to get along or does someone have to go?


Baffled Foreman


Dear Baffled Foreman:

You describe a provocative conflict between two competent fellows under you and they present a formidable challenge to your leadership. Your briefly describe a kind of bullying and intentional criticism by the older fellow and a deliberate discounting by the younger of the older one’s advice. You don’t say, but I image, they don’t hesitate to chew each other out and almost come to blows. And I also predict that these two guys are part of a larger work gang and that contention between them sours the work of others, just as that can happen on a team with two players, who should cooperate, belittle each other and hog the limelight.

You are their workplace coach. So coach what might you do? Because you are close to this conflict and I am not, only you can weigh if my thoughts about the causes and possible approaches to coping with their conflict make sense and can determine which if any of what I suggest applies to your particular situation. The underlying causes for conflict between these individuals can lie in personality needs and habits of one or both of these guys with good hands. Apparently they need acknowledgment of their superior competence. One has a pattern of asserting his expertise and belittling that of the other who also displays his star quality. Theirs is an I’m-better-than-you, a you’re-down and that makes-me-up on-going power struggle, and likely this struggle bleeds into your larger work group. In almost every work group there is an up-down dimension. To be sure you are appointed foreman, but these two are vying to be next in line if not your equal. In addition to this up-down who’s best unscripted contest, their behavior is evident of a second need, an I’m-in, I-belong-here because of my expertise more than the other guy, an in-out need to belong. A third dimension is the unspoken need to be liked, an am-I-liked and do-I-like those in our work gang?

We all have ego needs. Some of us have stamped in behaviors that are not easily sanded down and smoothed over. In short, some have personalities that make them habitually behave like tanks and snipers. Why? Because that works for them. They get emotional pay for I-know-best talk. As their foreman you have several options: · Knock their heads together. Tell them to STOP, stop bullying, stop belittling, stop ego-staring I-know-best attitudes. Benching one or both, and as a last resort, as you suggest, announcing one of you must go might motivate them to stop. Probably it would take you or a facilitator more than one confrontation session to help these two see you mean business and a scheduling a probationary time to learn if they modify long held patterns.

· Coaching them on effective communication rules. These two guys can be coached to spell out communication dos and don’t rules that apply to them in particular and to your larger work gang in general, such as: Do find ways to join anothers’ ideas rather than judge them as bad. Do find ways to say, “That’s good” acknowledging the others’ work at least once or twice a week. Don’t boss. Don’t belittle. Don’t gossip about one another. Do check with the foreman together for an over view of assignments each morning. You as coach can involve these two and, better still, can take time out to involve your whole work gang in such a task. Post the rules and review and/or modify them after a fair trial. · Create an over-arching goal that can’t be achieved without maximum cooperation. What that might be for your work gang will depend on their interests, such as completing a project a day ahead merits a day off with pay or working without egotistic outbursts can pay off with tickets to a NFL game. · Enlisting them in statewide quality improvement competition. I’m been impressed how teams from different companies can innovate and present their achievements. · Hold weekly skull sessions in which your work gang and you applaud what went well and brainstorm on what we need to do to prevent and correct problems.

These are overlapping approaches to coping constructively with conflict. Perhaps the very act of presenting these two guys with your question and my answer could enable them to face up to how destructive one or both of them are to each other and your work crew. Ego is a defense against low self-esteem. Ego is a way we get the strokes we need. What is too often missing is the realization that there are plenty of egos in WEGO and that working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. So Coach what will you do?

William Gorden