Don’t Take Anything Personally

By Jimmy Warden

I’m sure there has been a time in everybody’s life when they’ve taken something personally. I know that I have: I even took something personally as recently as this week. However, when we take things personally, we’re forcing unnecessary suffering upon ourselves. We do not need to take things personally because what others say and do is not about us: it is a reflection of them.

How are what people say and do reflections of them?

This is something that can be hard to understand because we think that we’re responsible for how people think, act, or feel. For example, if we say something about someone, and they get upset, we think it’s our fault. In reality, it was their interpretation of our words that triggered their feelings. This also occurs when people say things to us that make us feel upset. One could make the argument that the spoken words are what triggered that interpretation, but this is how ideas get misconstrued. We think that the words that someone said are what caused our feeling of inadequacy; in reality, the only person that truly can make us feel inferior is ourselves. This is the main reason why we shouldn’t take anything personally. We are the ones who give permission to how words of others affect us.

When people get upset and lash out at others, they are trying to meet their own personal needs. Whether it’s to feel dignified, righteous, or something in between, their actions are serving their motives. When someone says something nasty about us, it’s really not about us. It’s about their motives. Their motives are to put someone down, regardless of who that might be. These types of people make their actions about themselves because they would probably replicate the same thing to others if they’re doing it to us.

The reason they do this is because they’re in defense mode, or in this case, attack mode. They don’t know what else to do, other than solve their immediate problem and not care for the listener. Maybe they feel their identity, values, or beliefs are being jeopardized; as a result, they lash out at us. Unfortunately, that can leave the listener feeling attacked, but it is up to listener to agree or disagree with what they said. So when we listen, it is our job to analyze their words, and decide if we agree or disagree with the negative, discouraging, poisonous words and energy coming from them. The only person that truly can make us feel inferior is ourselves.

When do people take things personally?

People take things personally when their conversation gets disconnected because of their lack of clarity with their spoken word or understanding of the words being spoken to them. Sometimes, the speaker is not able to get their thoughts across in an articulate manner; sometimes, the listener is not able to fully understand what the speaker said. When this happens, people often take things personally amidst the miscommunication. For example, tone of voice could be misunderstood by the listener, and as a result, they may make a wrong judgement about the speaker’s mood or intention of their words. It is the listener’s responsibility to genuinely listen, to pay attention. Care for the words and the story of the person you’re listening to. It’s their story, not yours. It is also the speaker’s responsibility to make an effort in being transparent with their tone, word selection, and body language. Especially, body language. Word selection, a close second. As a speaker, speak your truth. Be clear. Don’t allow any wiggle room for someone to take something personally.

Another instance when people take something personally in a conversation is when it has to do with feedback being given to them by someone else. They’re hearing the feedback, but they understand it as a personal attack because it penetrates their sense of self. They feel as if they’re not where they should be. This is what makes us feel inadequate. We take the feedback to heart as if it is a shortcoming that devalues us, but its purpose is to make us more valuable if we can adhere to it. This is when we need to be better listeners and listen to the value of the feedback in terms of where it could take us.

A similar story could be told if we’re giving feedback to others. When we articulate the feedback, it is vital to separate the feedback from the person. Try not to make it about them or their identity: make it about the actions. A way to do this is by articulating the action of what we’d like to see the other person do, instead of simply saying they’re not where they should be or that they need to be acting a certain way. Implying someone “should” be somewhere else from their current state of being can instantly put the listener in a metaphorical corner because they feel they’re being personally attacked.

How can we work on not taking things personally?

A lot of the ways that we can work on not taking things personally have been embedded throughout the post, but I’ll leave us with some key takeaways for us all to keep in mind, and most importantly, practice.

1.) Remembering that what others say and do is a reflection of what they want to do with their lives.

2.) We’re responsible for what we say and do, not how others interpret it. Same is said for what others say and do to us. We’re responsible for how we interpret that.

3.) When giving or receiving feedback, separate the feedback from the person. Framing the feedback as something that that person can try often can do the trick.

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