The Need for Humility in the Workplace

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We live in a society that values individuality … that encourages competition.  We work in a world where we are constantly advised to speak up, be assertive, toot our own horns, beat the competition — and the person sitting next to us.  Humility is an often overlooked, yet extremely valuable human quality.

Humility is our ability to admit that we don’t know everything, and that everyone has equal value.

Why is it important in the workplace?

  • It reminds us to keep learning.
  • It enables us to ask for advice (regardless of whether you’re the boss or fresh out of college).
  • It keeps us quiet when we’re in a conversation about something we know little about.
  • It means giving … before we receive.
  • It helps us listen to and recognize when someone else’s idea is better than ours.
  • It makes it possible for us to admit our mistakes and apologize for them.
  • It affects how we work on a team.

“The consensus is that humility is widely embraced. People react positively to the thought of it,” says Terry Howard of Texas Instruments in a blog post for  Yet “good old-fashioned humility has an image problem these days.” He asserts that there’s an underlying belief that humble people don’t get ahead in the business world — that “basic humility gets trampled in the stampede for results at all cost, driven deeper underground by job insecurities, work pressures and huge egos.”

But “there’s something truly powerful about (humble people) that we can all stand to emulate,” wrote Lindsay Holmes for “Studies have associated humility with healthy adjustment, good leadership and other positive emotions — demonstrating that in order to reach total success, we could stand to benefit from getting in touch with our modest side.”  She quotes Mike Austin, PhD, professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University: “Many people think of humility as … thinking very little of yourself, and I don’t think that’s right. It’s more about a proper or accurate assessment. A big part of humility is knowing our own limits, our strengths and weaknesses.”

Learn to be humble. Here’s some advice to get you started:

Understand your strengths and weaknesses. It’s hard for most of us to accurately self-assess. Ask a few  people who know you well to give you some candid feedback so you know what your weaknesses are.

Remember to keep learning. Improvement is a lifelong process that should never stop, even when you’re really good at something. Whether it’s through books, classes, or people, continue to learn.

Develop a grateful mind-set. Be willing to receive advice, corrections, and contributions. True gratitude takes a willingness not to be the sole contributor to your accomplishments, says Robert Roberts for He also suggests that you keep a gratitude journal where you write down ways that others have contributed to your successes so you’ll be more aware of your dependency on others.

This struggle to maintain our humility is age old, as summed up in this Benjamin Franklin quote: “In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.”

“Consider how much better a workplace would be if everyone, yourself included, were willing to not just take constructive criticism from others, but use it,” says Robert Kaplan in his book What to Ask the Person in the Mirror.  “Imagine the comfort level if we weren’t all afraid to nudge each other in a better direction.”

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.