Each one of us wants to feel like we are adding value, both in the workplace and beyond. Whenever we make comments, suggestions and criticisms, there is very likely an inner voice spurring us on to this end — to add value. But, what if sometimes you are not adding value at all, but doing the opposite?
You have very likely done excellent pieces of work in your career, only to receive unnecessary, cosmetic or downright meaningless comments for changes. Comments that sometimes make you scratch your head and wonder, “Really? Is that even necessary?”
What we forget is that people (often more senior) just want to feel like they are adding value. To feel like they have done their bit. And, this is probably linked to the deep and fundamental human need of wanting to be appreciated. But, that does not mean such behaviour — well-intentioned as it may be — is useful.
Stroking your ego?
What’s even more problematic is that such behaviour may not be about adding value at all! Unconsciously, it could easily become more about stroking one’s own ego. It may be hard for people to accept that their input is sometimes (or often) not required. This problem is so pervasive that you hear of such tricks as including a deliberate spelling error on page one or two of a draft presentation that is to be circulated to senior persons.
The hope is that the spotting of the spelling error will make said very senior company persons feel like they have added value straightaway, and therefore avoid making superfluous and unnecessary changes. And, I can tell you from my own experiences that it works. What is really sad is that such tricks have to even be used!
Adding value because of insecurity?
The illusion of adding value is not just restricted to senior company persons, of course. This behaviour can go on at all levels, whether you are Chair of the board, or a graduate trainee mentoring an intern. Furthermore, adding value can also become dangerously mixed with insecurity. Mixed with wanting to feel like you should have something to add because you have more experience or are more senior. But, the real wisdom of seniority is knowing when, and when not, to intervene.
It then takes humility and self-reflection to really check that what you are suggesting is truly beneficial. That it’s not motivated by insecurity or the need to just feel like you have contributed. It takes courage to ask: “I am really adding value or just stroking my ego?”
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.