The ego is directly linked to so many of our interpersonal interactions, if not all of them. Human beings are genetically coded to be self-centered, or ego-centric, for our survival. When our ancient ancestors were a hunter-gatherer society, if an individual did not look ager his or her own needs in those environments, the chances of passing along the genes to offspring were pretty low. Suspending our individual ego is the most difficult because of our genetics. Conversely, it is one of the best techniques to utilize when an individual chooses to have a positive interaction and attain rapid rapport.
Ego suspension. There it is. What does it mean?
I have been doing quite a bit of research and consideration of the skills required to be a truly effective listener, collaborator, influencer (more on that later) and generally a better human being. It turns out that ego suspension is critical to this direction of growth and one of the hardest things to do. Ever.
I heard Robin Dreeke, author of “It’s Not All About “Me”” speak in February on the subject of building rapport. His tips and message were encouraging and challenging, not the least about the importance of ego suspension. A short quote from his book:
In some circles this is also seen as a factor of the practice known as ‘active listening‘. Generally, it involves that you stop listening to your inner voice in order to direct your full attention and understanding to the person you are listening to. You must not filter what they say, begin formulation of an answer, follow-up question or even a compelling response. You set aside yourself and become what I call an “attention sink” for the other person. What they say matters and is what is most important as they speak. Paying full attention to this as well as all of the other signifiers such as body language and vocal tone can allow even more comprehensive communication and understanding.
One of the things that made me have difficulties with this, aside from the actual ego suspension itself, was the inevitable pause when the person finished speaking and I allowed my self to process all that transpired. It seemed like an awkward silence. Especially in business, it seems, the more quickly you fire back a response the sharper you feel you are. However, as my years in business have passed, I am finding that a thoughtful pause, perhaps with some paraphrasing and reflection as suggested in active listening (but not necessarily required), can set the stage for clearer and better thought out responses and may actually initiate further discussions and discovery. And that is All Good.
So why write about this? Because is it devilishly difficult. Years ago I was fortunate to be immersed in a two program of training for spiritual directors and ego suspension was a core tenet, although not necessarily called that. I have found that practicing ego suspension is something I must do daily (and under distinct protest from my ego, I might add…) in my role as a Community Leader, Builder and Manager, as a father and spouse, as a spiritual director, as a mentor, as a friend and as a more complete human. In my journey to be more authentic, I find I need to set myself aside, which sounds like a paradox. Maybe it is supposed to be that way.