Do you suffer from Centre of the Universe Syndrome?

Some people forget that there are other people in the world.

Centre of the Universe
Centre of the Universe

We’ve all experienced the person who jumps the line at Starbucks, or drives down the shoulder on the highway… who generally behaves as if they are at the centre of the universe.

As much as we may roll our eyes at their behaviour, are you certain you’re not doing the same things at work without realizing it?

It can happen quite easily. We have a million things running through our mind at any one time, and we sometimes forget about the people around us. We conveniently forget that they have emotions and a life, too.

When we’re focusing on just ourselves, we’re sending the same message that the line jumper and the traffic jumper are sending: I am more important than you.

That probably isn’t the message you intend to send. It certainly isn’t the message that’s best for your professional (and personal) reputation. But it could explain why you are running into resistance and what feels like a lack of support.

Read through this checklist to see if you are accidentally suffering from “Centre of the Universe Syndrome.”

1. The telephone greeting. The addition of cell phones in our lives has changed the way we speak to each other, the same way in which text messaging has changed the way we email. Telephone calls—in particular, business calls—are now shorter and more to the point. I appreciate the brevity; however, sometimes business calls have become a little too self-focused, leaving the other person feeling dismissed.

For example, Warren’s mom is 82 and a chronic worrier. When she gets something on her mind, it’s the only thing she can focus on, to the detriment of simple manners. If she were to get her Visa bill in the mail (which my husband takes care of), she will call Warren at work the second it arrives to ensure he pays it for her. But she’s in a state of panic (or at the centre of the universe) when she calls him:

Ring Ring
Warren: Thank you for calling ON THE RIGHT TRACK, this is Warren, how may I help you?
Mom: I just got the Visa bill in the mail and I need you to pay it right now! (panic-stricken voice)
Warren: Hi Mom, how are you?

 And so on…

She is so focused on what she needs at that moment that she can’t even take the time to say hello. She doesn’t ask if Warren has time to help her, or if it is even convenient.

Let’s be honest, though. We’ve all done that at work, right? Sometimes we don’t have time for chit-chat because we need something immediately. We don’t intend to be rude, but it can come across that way.

Pay attention to how you open conversations. Do you offer a greeting? It may take another 10 seconds or so; for the most part, we can afford to take that 10 extra seconds.

Rhonda: Hi Suzanne, it’s Rhonda. I’m hoping you have a quick two minutes for me as I’m in a bit of a panic.
Rhonda: Hi Suzanne, it’s Rhonda. I know you’re really busy, so I won’t take up much of your time.

Those greetings are polite, brief and focused, respectful of the other person, and they show that you’re aware that you’re not the only one who matters in the conversation.

2. The telephone answer. Please say hello, or something other than “Yeah.”

I recently called a company I was hoping to do business with. However, based on the conversation I had with them, I decided not to.

It went something like this:

Ring Ring
Mike: Yeah (sounding annoyed that I interrupted him).
Rhonda: Oh, hello. Is this Mike?
Mike: Yeah.

I immediately wanted to hang up. I felt like I was being dismissed and that Mike had no desire to speak to me at all. If he didn’t have the time, he shouldn’t have answered the phone. He didn’t even have the courtesy to say hello to me. I felt, in that moment, that he had decided that I was a nuisance. I certainly didn’t want to business with anyone who made me feel that way.

3. Email. Email follows the same rules as above. Say hello on your email. Address it to me, somehow (other than in the recipient line). We don’t need a big chat or anything, but take the time to say hi or hello, or put my name at the top of the email. If you don’t, you will sound exactly the same as the telephone conversation that jumps right to the point without a hello—in other words, rude.

If our email goes back and forth a few times, I don’t need you to greet me each time, but in the first email on a new subject I would really appreciate a hello.

4. Me Me Me language. There is a difference between “I” language and “Me Me Me” language. “I” language is to take responsibility for what I want, I think, I feel, I hear, I need instead of saying You have to, You need to, You should.
Me Me Me language is braggy. Look at me! Look how great it is to be me! It’s very self-centered and leaves the listener feeling as if they aren’t even in the conversation (which they typically aren’t).

I have a friend who does this all the time and I walk away feeling annoyed each time. It is a sort of one-upmanship type conversation:

Rhonda: Summer went so quickly. I can hardly wait until my winter vacation is here. I love the heat.
Friend: Me too! I’m going to Hawaii this year. We went to Jamaica last year, so this will be a nice change. We go every year.

If you read my recent article about conversation stealers (click here to read it) you’ll realize right away that this person not only suffers from Centre of the Universe Syndrome but she’s also a conversation stealer.

Take the time to have a back-and-forth conversation. Be interested in the other person. It shouldn’t be all about you.

5. Obliviousness. People who take the last cup of coffee in the office and don’t make another pot. People who leave the photocopier jammed or without paper. People who don’t wipe off the counter in the kitchen or the washroom. Anyone who would have the nerve to eat anything at work that they hadn’t brought to work, or didn’t have permission to eat.

This list could go on and on, couldn’t it? Don’t be the oblivious one in the office.

Look up and realize that there are other people in the world. Get your head out of the clouds and remember to treat other people as people. Learn their names, smile and make eye contact with anyone you meet during the day, and take an interest in what others are doing.

Centre of the Universe

I promise that you’ll feel better; that people will treat you better and that a whole new world will open up for you.


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