When you start to take things personally

One of the most difficult lessons I have learned in my career is how not to take every comment, action or criticism personally. I am a strong person who has confidence but there have been times when some feedback has felt unfair or I beat up on myself because I was not perfect. (More on the love/hate with perfectionism in a future post!)

“Work and personal don’t mix. Feedback is a gift. A businessperson should have thick skin. Leave your emotions at the door. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. And, don’t take things too personally!”

Words of wisdom we have all heard and they sound logical. Yes! This is how we should act! However, most of us are committed to quality work. We take pride in what we do and we are invested in the outcome, which includes what people think about us.

When I was younger, one of my mentors told me it was a waste of time to spend too much energy on how others feel about us because we can’t control how they feel; we can only control how we feel.

Intellectually, this makes sense. Practically, it is tough to not think about how did someone take what I said? Did that leader like what I did? How am I performing? Am I liked or just tolerated? And, my personal favorite, how do I compare to my peers? Is he better than me?

All of these thoughts are normal human behavior but they can become all-consuming and translate into a “I am having a bad day” all the way to “I need to find another job.” We can carry these feelings to our homes especially in these times when our offices are mere steps from our personal interactions in the kitchen.

Here are my tips for taking a breath and not taking comments, actions and criticism as a personal attack.

1: Focus on You. Instead of focusing on what someone tells you or how you may be treated unfairly, focus on what you think of yourself and your efforts. Do you feel good about what you achieved? If not, then examine what you could have done better and do that the next time. Are you satisfied with the results? Do you like what you are doing? How can you find joy in your work? Instead of seeking approval from others, we should strive for self-fulfillment and work on how we feel about our performance first. When we feel good, that self-confidence shines through to others.

2: Walk in another skin. In one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells his daughter that we don’t really know someone until we have jumped in their skin and walked around in it for a while. If someone criticizes you or even snaps at you, just remember it may not be about you at all. If we realize that people react based on the many things happening in their lives, we save ourselves lots of time spent on complaining or getting upset. Some people can compartmentalize and some cannot. Think about how you react to things. Is it all about the person or is it just a tiny bit about the argument you had this morning with your significant other, the fact that you can’t see your family now or the dog is driving you nuts?

3: Show compassion. I truly believe this is a skill that can be learned because I am living proof. I have spent the last year focused on compassion. I have it posted on my bulletin board and I have mantras I recite every morning saved as reminders in my phone. It has saved my mood, my family life, and my overall well-being. Instead of thinking the worst, have compassion for what the other person may be going through. There could be other motivations for why they may appear critical. Maybe they are afraid of losing their job or maybe they are experiencing health issues. Keeping compassion front and center has helped me let things go and not take certain actions personally, which only helps me (and everyone around me)!

4: Breathe. Simple and effective. When we hear something that we think is personal, stop and don’t react for five seconds. Take a quick, deep breath. Remember you, what it’s like to walk in their skin and practice compassion. Trust me. This will help you focus on what matters and not take things personally.

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