Behind Performance Adjectives Series: Self-Centered

Working with leaders and individuals on making successful transitions, I hear a lot of adjectives.  Within an adjective is a very important piece of information, perception.  So here is one I hear too often:  Self-centered.  What does it mean and How do you deal with it if it sticks to you?

How to understand self-centered: I use an assessment called the Birkman Method because it has a unique way of directly measuring Usual Style, Needs, and Stress Behaviors.  In one sentence, the Birkman says that if needs are not met then stress behavior results.  In one of the eleven components that Birkman measures, Acceptance, is how we relate to people in groups.  It is not uncommon for people to show a usual behavior of having a preference for individual assignments, and still have a need for group meetings where they have specific needs of:

  • Reassurance from others when tasks become frustrating and lonely
  • Social status

If they do not get that group time, some stress behaviors that show up are less concern about individuals in the group.  Hmmm – – sounds kind of self-centered.


How to fix self-centered: First, recognize that anyone showing more energy for group work than team work will get this label, especially if people see they only show up for meetings so that they can get kudos/support from others.  Two key steps:  First, name the need up front so instead of labeling the behavior we can just understand why it is happening.  Secondly, for the individual it is important to see your need as a potential barrier to working well with others.  Being structured about using your meeting time to sharing your wins, challenges, and areas you need team input is important.  You also need to develop the habit of asking others how they are doing and trying to do one thing per meeting where you go out of your way to help someone else.

How to interpret / share self-centered.  One book I share with people in my library is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.  A key way to deal with our jump to adjective is to see it and step to ask ourselves What story am I telling myself right now? Follow this up with a shift by asking yourself:  What assumption am I making?  What question could I ask (person’s name) to gain some clarity?

An example:  Imagine seeing your friend Bob in a meeting where he comes in, shares what he did great this week, asks for help on a couple of things, and then leaves suddenly before anyone else got to talk and bring up some of the things that they needed his input.  The story in your head – There goes Bob again, showing how he is the center of everything and not caring about the team again.  How self-centered.  The story has been written . . . . .

A good follow-up conversation with Bob:  Hey Bob, could I ask you a question:  You popped into the meeting today and left before our team had a chance to talk about issue x.  We really needed your input and it frustrated me because that is the second week in a row and it is delaying decision x.  What’s up?  See the book if you want to learn how to finish this conversation . . . .

In summary: Watch your adjectives, and work to understand the stories we are telling ourselves that substantiate our conclusions and perceptions.

As an individual, don’t be so surprised when the outcome of our actions result in stories/adjectives that are not flattering.  When we repeatedly leave meetings early, give one word answers, ask very few questions, or use email as our primary way of interacting with everyone, unflattering adjectives will be the result.  The Birkman Method is a great lens for starting a great conversation that will help deal with these issues before they become an issue.