It’s Just Business, Don’t Take It Personally. Really?
I think each of us has heard this phrase a time or two in our career. If it’s being said while your company is letting you go, it is decidedly difficult to feel like it’s not personal. If it’s being said while your manager is delivering the news that your salary increase is going to be far less than customary, it is going to be considerably difficult to consider it anything but personal. And yet, leaders and managers have a business to run, don’t they? Does everything have to be personal all the time? Of course not… So, how can YOU avoid taking things personally, and watching your emotional intelligence spill down the drain with the latest slight you’ve received?
Let It Go: It can be incredibly helpful, indeed, incredibly freeing to let your emotional baggage go when someone says something to you in a business setting, and your impulse is to take it personally. It’s not always about you. You do NOT occupy a spot at the center of the universe, so please, recognize that you do NOT have to be so certain that everything that is said to you in business is personal. Emotional Intelligence involves self-awareness first. People make mistakes. They say things clumsily. They say the wrong things when they are tired, stressed, under pressure, etc. Trust me on this, they do NOT always realize that what they’ve just said is hurtful to you, so PLEASE, avoid the temptation to overreact. It does not have to be about you, unless you make it be about you.
X-Ray Vision: I have several colleagues who speak like they can always see into other people’s souls and determine their true intentions and their motivations. Apparently, they’ve found some special glasses at Target that provide X-Ray vision into someone’s psyche. These lucky folks have employed their magic X-Ray glasses to be able to see why their colleague decided today was the perfect day to tell them that their work on the big project was not up to expectations. These folks speak authoritatively about the person who hurt their feelings and assign attributions of intent and motivation that I don’t see or believe to be there. Is it possible to see into another person’s soul and to perfectly divine their true intentions? Can we see their motivations and understand exactly what they were trying to say and what they were hoping to achieve? I think not. I cannot see another person’s motivations easily and need to avoid the overwhelming urge to assign blame and evil intent when someone says something I don’t particularly like. Perhaps I misunderstood? Don’t assume, right? We’ve all learned by now, that it makes an a__ out of you, and an a__ out of me. (One of my favorite sayings, so true…) On the other hand, if you’ve found those magic glasses at Target and can see into someone else’s motivations, let me know which aisle they are stocked in, I NEED some of those glasses. Don’t assume.
Businesses Are A Business: Accept that a business should be run like a business. That means that we can’t walk around all day making sure everyone is happy all hours of the day. Sometimes business is rough, isn’t it Sometimes we have to make tough decisions and choose between difficult options that are not necessarily easy to discern. If your manager says something to you about your work, and you don’t like the tone or the content, don’t collapse. Put it into the context of what else is going on around the business today. Perhaps your manager lost his dog overnight. Perhaps your manager just got his bottom chewed by his manager earlier today. Perhaps your manager just got her dashboard reports and discovered that her department is dead last in metrics for the third month in a row, and she is feeling a bit intimidated. Remind yourself that you have choices in this life. Yes, you can choose to react with your gut and over-react emotionally because someone ruffled your feathers by choosing their words poorly. That choice will have consequences, as do all choices. On the other hand, perhaps your leader isn’t having a great day and didn’t handle that conversation with you the way she really wanted to and is planning to apologize to you in five minutes. It never pays to be too harsh or hasty, even when you are feeling offended. Take a breath. Take a couple of breaths. Think it over. Count your blessings, and think about what might have led to the conversation and don’t judge too harshly. That’s a pretty smart choice that works out better than taking offense and becoming angry.
If someone has pushed your buttons today and told you not to take it personally, you will be tempted to take it personally. Sometimes it will be difficult or near impossible not to be hurt and feel terrible about it. Be the wise one who realizes that business is tough these days, and sometimes in the heat of battle, the choices that are made and the words that are selected are affected by time constraints, budget constraints, and a host of other complications. You will never be able to see them all, and you will have to suppress the urge to attribute a whole boatload of adversary intentions to the conversation, or you may have to swallow your pride and a healthy helping of humble pie if you over-react. Be patient and wise, and think about things before you decide to take personal offense. In my experience, you will usually be glad you did…