The Not-Me Employee Syndrome

employer and employee at work

by Nan Russell

A common pastime at work, it seems, is to point out fellow employee flaws, missteps, and problems. Especially the boss’s flaws, a coworker’s problems down the hall, or that person in another department who had a noticeable misstep.

Stories of fellow employee performance and style inadequacies, or snippets of negative encounters, are sometimes unfairly repeated at the workplace for days or weeks. Some stories will live perpetually in the work-culture, fueling rumors about a perceived inept, difficult, or bureaucratic department or person, based on workplace rumors and gossip from past years..

Certainly, difficult people, poor leaders, and problems exist at work. But, the reality is that most people are pleasant and respectful to each other. However, there are many training courses, books, and articles available which teach you how to effectively deal with difficult people on the job. Articles like “How to Work for an Idiot” and “Ways to Cope with the Coworker from Hell”, plus many other similar titles.

In this Age of Me, where selfies, personal-branding, and self-expression, push the limits of common sense and “tribal community” mentality, did you ever think “What about me?” Does someone at work believe those things about me? Are YOU someone else’s difficult person, or idiot boss? Those are not questions that we typically ask ourselves, but if you want to be a winner at work, you should.

While we’re quick to want to fix everyone else, to think that the problems at work are only about them, most of us fall short when it comes to seeing our own impact on others, even if you are not being a complete “coworker from Hell.” In my first executive role years ago, while going through some employee feedback, I quickly discovered that what I intended, and how it was perceived by others, was vastly different.

If I’ve learned anything in my 30 year career, it’s this: “self-awareness is a critical and challenging skill to develop”. Today, during this me-focused period of time, which encourages and reinforces projection outward, not reflection inward, it’s even harder to be self-aware.

From popularity and work performance, to driving skills and general intelligence, we have the collective tendency to overestimate our skills. Duke University Professor Mark R. Leary calls it the “better than average” effect. Professor Leary noted in his book, The Curse of the Self, that “most of us have a higher-than-average perception of ourselves, often blinding us to our shortcomings.”

This “illusionary superiority” even applies to how trustworthy we think we are. For example, criminals would never top most people’s trustworthy list, but many criminals still see themselves as trustworthy. According to research from the British Psychological Society: “Jailed criminals think they are kinder, more trustworthy, and equally honest as the average member of the public.”

This “better than average” effect can yield a “not-me syndrome.” It’s not me that’s creating stress, building road blocks, or diminishing trust, it’s someone else. It’s not me who needs improved communication, or more trust-based work relationships, it’s them. And, it’s not me who’s micro-managing, or failing to follow through on my words or commitments, it’s those other people.

But, people who are winning at work don’t rationalize their shortcomings, or failures. They try to understand them, recognize them, and learn from them. They ask themselves the hard questions, knowing that self-honesty and self-awareness, are key to building trust, operating with genuine relationships, getting great results, and reaching their goals.

What people who are winning at work know is this: “self-awareness is a necessary and critical success skill”. There are many ways to create self-awareness, to become mindfully aware of our personal intentions, and to know the impact of our interactions. Each of those traits require persistence, focus, and an ongoing determination, to achieve.

If you want to be winning at work, a focus to eliminate the not-me syndrome and gain self-awareness, can’t be optional.

Nan Russell is an award winning author. You can learn more about her, and her work, at

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