We (all or almost) have a tendency to take things personally.
Whether the result is being offended, being happy, being comfortable or uncomfortable*, it means that at the very beginning we took it personally.
I will not discuss here the comfortable side of things. Because obviously if I am feeling happy I will not make a big deal of it.
The challenge is when we take something personally and it makes us feel uncomfortable.
How to overcome the challenge ?
Fact number 1 : Sometimes this is not about you – but about the other person
We all see things, analyse and speak according to our background and the way our thinking is “framed” by our experiences, environment, etc. but also according to our feelings. So when someone tells us or does something that makes us uncomfortable, this should always be considered at the light of his/her own framework and feelings.
- Example : Your colleague is a bit “conservative” and will qualify as “wrong” a friendly/personable approach you may have towards a client. This doesn’t mean your approach is “wrong”, it does just mean that it is according to his framework of “how we should behave” in front of a client. The fact that you behave in a “friendly/personable” manner makes him uncomfortable and is perceived as a threat. By discussing you can find a common agreement, make him understand your point of view and the advantages of your approach versus yourself understand his way of working and get to improve yours.
Fact number 2 : If you still think this is about you – ask and be curious
We are all living in different realities. What is important (or not) for us and others can be totally different. Sometimes just asking can help easing the situation.
- Example : A colleague is very messy (according to my system of thinking) and spread his papers and files on his desk, spreading over my desk…. WOOOTTTT how dare him 🙂 ! Let’s skip the brain bla bla and just ask. He might not have noted (I know I know, for us it seems impossible, but remember he is messy) and he might not have realised either that we were very close from WWIII because of him spreading his stuff on our desk. Actually he might be super happy to tidy up and accommodate.
- Another example : You’ve spent the afternoon playing with your kid outside. It’s time to go back home and he is “obviously” upset, doesn’t want to go home and is not collaborative. Our first reaction can be : “wait, I have played with you all afternoon, and that’s the way you behave after that ? So next time I will not play with you”. Digging a bit may allow to understand that your child behaviour is not about not being thankful towards you, it is just about him being very upset that this nice moment is finished.
Once facts 1 and 2 are understood, it is totally up to us how we want to receive a situation that makes us uncomfortable. We can reject it, accept it totally or with limits or take it as an opportunity for growth (especially when it is constructive feedback). But now we have the choice eh, and especially the one of not feeling uncomfortable about it.
Fact number 3 : Educate your brain
Our brain create habits or in other words “automations” to make “execution” easier and faster (e.g. you don’t need to think to put your coat on, drink you coffee, etc. this is an automation).
On the other hand our brain is focused on survival : this “drives us to be protective of our needs and fearful of perceived threats”**
Long story short, some of our reactions and feelings are automatically generated by our brain as a result of a perceived (let’s imagine I double underlined that one) threat. We understand that “perceived” links back directly to own framework and feelings.
So basically we all have a different brain that will potentially raise an alert when it will spot a threat based on its own framework… That’s the cat biting its own tail.
The good news is that you can educate your brain and teach him what you do want to perceive as a threat and what you don’t. And for each of these situations focus on empathy (what is going on for the other person ?), curiosity and open discussion rather than taking it as a threat or attack… and taking it personally.
Next time you are feeling upset by what someone is saying/doing, take a couple of breaths and think about this. Let me know how it goes.
*I prefer using the words comfortable versus uncomfortable when it comes to feelings rather than positive and negative.
** source : Team Up ! – Lori Shook & Frode Svensen (will never say thank you enough to Tracey for making me discover this book)