We’re All Selfish – Why Hide It?
Jennifer Wilson

“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 an effort to get what we need.

When we teach conflict management (find our e-book and self-study course at 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. That way, 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.

My partner Tamera Loerzel shared in her Another Possible View blog that we usually operate and communicate only from our interpretation of the situation. When we stop to identify our view and self-interest, we can disclose both to the other party so that 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 way.

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 more control over our time, and we certainly don’t want to have less time or less control over how we spend our 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 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 don’t hear this as saying 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 honest, you can admit your desires and then put them aside willingly, instead of begrudgingly. You may be able to acknowledge your upset with the situation and release the bitterness of your self-sacrifice when you recognize what you are sacrificing.

Being un-selfish enough to admit you have needs, 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 be 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!




This popular blog was updated and re-posted today because of its relevance to our many readers and its impact on teamwork and unity within firms – something so many will focus on in their spring and summer retreats.


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2 Responses
  • Shaun on May 30, 2013

    This is a very good realization. It’s tough to admit that we are all selfish. You do a good job of pointing out that everyone is selfish in one way or another and we need to use that to work together. Thanks for this post, Jen.

  • Jennifer Wilson
    Jennifer on May 31, 2013

    Thanks for the note, Shaun. It really does help to acknowledge your own selfish interest and, in doing so, that opens up the other party to share theirs, too and it does help with teamwork.

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