There’s No I in Team

Workplace psychology researcher, Stefan Falk, wrote an article for CNBC, in which he’d like you to know that in his more than 30 years of studying workplace cultures, he’s discovered five toxic phrases selfish and entitled individuals always use. If he came up with only five, that suggests 30-plus years may not have been quite enough.

Be that as it may, here are the offending phrases Stefan’s in-depth studies have revealed:

  1. “This feedback is insulting.” [Translation: Some people may be interested in the truth. I’m not one of them.]
  2. “My ideas are valuable and always merit serious consideration.” [Translation: You’ve clearly failed to recognize my intellectual superiority.]
  3. “Their success comes at the expense of my own.” [Translation: You’ve weaponized merit and objectivity and used them against me.]
  4. “Why are you always trying to control me?” [Translation: There’s no i in team. But if you add an e, there’s eat me.]
  5. “You’re being disrespectful by not agreeing with me.” [Translation: I’m not responsible for your failure to recognize my genius.]

With a few more minutes of research, Stefan might have been able to abbreviate his article from 538 words to these nine: “Bureaucracies are Petri dishes for narcissism and self-serving politics.” But he didn’t. So, here are the top ten phrases (sentences, actually) selfish and entitled individuals use that Stefan might have heard if he’d stuck around a little longer. You can decide for yourself if they’re toxic — or if you should just tell the selfish and entitled individual in question to take a long walk off a short pier:

  1. “What’s in it for me?”
  2. “That’s a great idea, Herb. I’m glad I thought of it.”
  3. “The only person I care about, other than me, of course, is the one on the rung above me on the ladder.”
  4. “I came in late. So, I’m going to leave early to make up for it.”
  5. “There’s no limit to what you can accomplish around here, as long as you always tell me I’m right.”
  6. “You probably think you can’t get your nose any farther up my ass. But that’s only because you’re not trying hard enough.”
  7. “If you don’t think I’m the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
  8. “I’m not paying you to think. I’m paying you to say, ‘Yes.’”
  9. “I may not always be right. But I’m never wrong.”
  10. “Not for nothin’, but when HR found me, they quit hiring.”

The Man Behind the Curtain

In my last corporate gig, there was a guy as self-important as anyone I’ve ever met. We’ll call him Tony because his name was Tony. He was the last person of whom I’m aware who actually got a gold watch for 25 years of service to the company. He wasn’t an officer of the company, but he walked around, talked, and acted, as if he owned the joint.

His chief responsibilities were two: (1) He was responsible for the fleet of cars the company leased for its salespeople. (That ought to give you an idea of how long ago it was.) (2) He was responsible for commission payments to the salespeople. As a result, Tony produced enough reports every month, using enough paper to fell a forest every month, to bury the building — which was 24 or 34 stories, depending on what accounts you read — but listed as 527 feet tall in either case (?!).

Shortly after his 25th anniversary with the company, Tony was greased (staff-adjusted as the euphemists put it). His responsibilities were turned over to one of my co-workers and me. We’ll call the co-worker Jeff because his name was Jeff. When we were told Tony’s responsibilities were now ours, Jeff and I soiled ourselves. After regaining our composure and changing our shorts, we waded into the bunker Tony had built for himself in one corner of the floor on which we worked and started digging through his files.

We found nothing except for copious evidence of the fact that Tony did next to nothing. The reports he submitted every month, aside from being arboreally criminal, were delivered to him by others: The auto reports came from the company from which the cars were leased. The commission reports came from the accounting and IT departments that calculated them. All Tony did was re-package them, make them exponentially more voluminous than they had to be, submit them, and strut around like the cock of the walk.

All that and a gold watch, too. Wow.

The Moral of the Story

People are seldom as important as they try to appear to be. You don’t have to think they’re important at all because they think they’re important enough for both of you.

When you encounter such folks, repeat after me: “Take a long walk off a short pier.”


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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