Don’t Take it Personal

“Don’t take it personal!” Haha! Isn’t that a statement we’ve ALL said and heard at least a handful of times in our lives? When we’re the ones saying it we usually mean that our comments or criticisms aren’t meant as an insult or an attack. We’re just focused on the issue at hand. When we hear it though? Well, that’s totally different! When our feelings or our pride has been injured, “Don’t take it personal!” is NOT what we want to hear!

So, how do we not take it personally when it really feels personal? And how do we share our thoughts in a way that doesn’t harm the other person?

If you think you might be taking it personal:

  • Listen. Resist the temptation to give your rebuttal before you’ve heard the other person out.
  • Thank them. Yes, thank them – even if you don’t agree with them. Say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts, John. I’m going to think about this for a bit, and then I will circle back with you.”
  • Reflect. Think about their input. Is there a small chance they may be…right? Are you feeling defensive? If so, why? If you disagree, write down the mental roadblocks that are preventing you from aligning with their way of thinking.
  • Respond, but don’t react. So many workplace conflicts could be avoided if we would thoughtfully respond instead of emotionally react. If there is any risk of miscommunication, confusion, or a volley of emails back and forth, get face-to-face (or at the very least on the phone) to get on the same page, even if it’s just to agree to disagree.

If you’re the one saying “don’t take it personal,” consider:

  • What was your motive behind your feedback or comment? Was it to improve a product, or slight a teammate? Was it to help them get better, or make yourself look better?
  • Explain your thoughts. “Don’t take it personal” has really become a flippant (and often insulting) response that disregards another person’s perception of reality. Focus on the project, the product, or the issue at hand – not the person.
  • Offer to help. If you truly think something should be changed or improved, it’s really not enough to just say it. At the very least, offer to help the other person think through what needs to happen to make those improvements a reality.
  • Apologize. Even if you didn’t mean it and even if you think the other person is overly sensitive, if the other person is offended, offer a sincere apology and explain that your motives were not to injure or harm. Apologizing isn’t belittling; it’s humbling, and a humble leader is a good thing.

If you are actively working with real, live humans, you will both unintentionally offend and unintentionally be offended throughout the course of your career. Strive to communicate with compassion when sharing your thoughts and extend plenty of grace when receiving feedback from others. You’ll be a better leader for it.


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