Psychological Egoism: A Foundational Principle Upon Which You Can Improve Your Communication Skills
To dig into this principle, let's begin with two questions:
WHO is the most important person in YOUR world?
Have your answer? Great! Next question…
WHY is this person the most important person in YOUR world?
Hold onto your answers for now. We'll get to them in a moment.
When I stand in front of large groups and ask these questions, anywhere from 65% to 85% of the room names a spouse, partner, or significant other. The reasons they give are things like...
Anywhere from 10% to 25% will often name a child.
In general, when naming a child, parents say things like, "They're my world. My world revolves around them. They bring true happiness and joy to my world."
But then I remind them that I asked for THE most important person in their world, so if they have multiple children, they have to pick one. Most parents are appalled at the notion of having to choose one child over another, however occasionally, I'll have a few who do, and they'll say things like…
Then, periodically, there will be a small percentage of individuals who name a parent or grandparent saying things like…
That usually leaves a small percentage who haven't answered, so I will ask, "Who did you choose?" to which they quietly (and somewhat apologetically) respond, "Myself."
This is when I announce to the rest of the room, "The individuals who picked themselves are the only ones who answered honestly." (I know, you're probably cringing at the thought of that but hang in there with me. This will make sense very soon.)
In social psychology, there's a descriptive theory called PSYCHOLOGICAL EGOISM.
It states that humans are motivated by their own self-interest, welfare, and well-being. Because of this, when people choose to do things, they do so because of personal benefits they expect to obtain – either directly or indirectly.
Don't believe me? Proof exists in the reasons why people choose others as their most important person. Who are these reasons really about?
Take a few moments to think about who YOU named and your reason why. Did it have anything to do with what you gain from your relationship with them?
Psychological Egoism states that all human behavior is rooted in a foundation of self-interest. We're designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and it is a critical part of our internal wiring that ensures we are driven to take care of ourselves. So, this isn't anything we should be bothered by or disappointed with.
That said, it IS something we need to be aware of at all times because it is the foundation upon which our first principle for communicating more effectively sits.
Psychological Egoism is Always At Play: Humans evaluate and respond to everything they encounter based on its impact on them.
Self-interest is the basis for all human interaction which means the most important person in another person's mind is themselves.
Because of this, they evaluate everything they encounter based on its impact on them.
This evaluation then heavily influences their decision-making as to how they respond. And what is in their best interest, welfare, and well-being will be a key driver.
You're doing it. I'm doing it. We're all doing it whether we're conscious of it or not.
Here's why knowing and understanding this principle is so darn important...
It reminds us that how others respond to our communication and interaction with them has nothing to do with us personally, but rather everything to do with the impact our communication and interaction is having on them.
Our situational awareness improves when we're no longer inclined to take anything personally, which frees up our cognitive energy to focus on our approach.
And when we focus on our approach and its impact, we can be more thoughtful and intentional by proactively anticipating how they might respond to the various ways in which we can choose to communicate and interact with them.
This is why Maya Angelou famously observed...
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."