EP 19: Advice From a CEO: Stop Taking Things So Personally

by | May 25, 2021 | Podcast

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I once was told that taking things personally is one of the most selfish things a person could do.

This statement stuck with me, and I found myself sharing it often. Not wanting to be a hypocrite (or selfish), I decided I had better start paying more attention to whether or not I regularly took things personally. To my dismay, I realized that I did…far more often than I wanted to admit. I also found that when I did, I felt bad about myself. I felt bad about other people. I felt bad about the situation. I felt bad about everything. Yuck

After suffering a bit longer, I decided it was time to stop taking things so damn personally. Here’s what I did:

When my husband made a wisecrack at my expense, I took it as teasing (and actually laughed with him) rather than as him trying to make a point. When a coworker didn’t smile back at me, I told myself he must be having a bad day rather than that he must not like me. When a friend called to cancel happy hour, I believed her reason of being too busy with work rather than feel sorry for myself because she had more important things to do. When my boss gave me feedback on my argumentative communication style, I told myself how lucky I was to have someone who cared enough to help me see how my actions impacted others rather than get upset with him for not taking my side. When someone didn’t like my idea, I didn’t get my feelings hurt; I told myself I needed to vet my idea more thoroughly and work on my delivery rather than that my teammates were dismissive because they think I’m stupid.

Do you know what happened? My life dramatically improved. Every time I put a positive spin on my perception of a situation or conversation, I relaxed. I also found it much easier to be accountable for my actions. I became more open to hearing and considering different opinions. I became less attached to my ideas. It was easier for people to talk to me and give me feedback. I was happier. I think I even became more likeable. I know I liked myself a whole lot better.

I want to encourage you, too, to stop taking things so personally. You will not only improve your life, but you will also improve the lives of everyone around you. You will be happier. And you being happier makes the world happier. And we all know that the world could use more happiness.

Here are five things you can do to stop taking everything personally:

  1. Don’t make other people’s rudeness, irritability, curtness, etc., about you. It’s about whatever is going on with them. Smile, silently wish them well, and move on.
  2. Consider all feedback constructive. The more you get, the better you will be, even if the input doens’t feel valid. Make modifications and apologize when necessary.  But don’t take any of it personally; instead, be grateful for it.
  3. Don’t expect people to read your mind. If you do, you’ll regularly find yourself disappointed. Face it, most of us aren’t psychic so there is no point in expecting others to know what is happening inside you. Always be honest about how you feel and what you are thinking—candidness matters.
  4. Don’t make assumptions. You don’t know what other people are thinking or feeling, so don’t assume. Plus, incorrect assumptions cause undue suffering. If you don’t know, ask. Even if you think you do, ask. Seek to understand.
  5. Tell yourself a different story. Each of us views the world through our individual lens. We all have deeply rooted biases and personality types that influence the color, texture, and feel of that lens. Our lenses are shaped by our parents, family, friends, and communities and by our experiences. How each of us sees the world is very personal and very different. And that’s what makes the human species so unique. But it’s also our biggest downfall. We fall into the trap of thinking that our thoughts and feelings are THE TRUTH. “I am right and they are wrong.” Even highly self-aware people find it difficult to break outside of their way of thinking. None of us know THE TRUTH. We only feel and see our own truths (which may be flat out wrong). So if you are taking something personally, recognize that the story you are telling yourself is just that: a story, and there’s a good chance it’s wrong. Why not tell a different story? One that doesn’t involve turning angels into demons.

Not taking things personally takes effort and persistence, but it’s worth it. You’ll be much happier and feel better about yourself when you can let things easily slide off your back. You’ll be more open-minded and better able to take feedback when you let other people have their own opinions without becoming defensive or protective.  Life is better when you turn your story from a negative one to a positive one.

Question of the episode: This question comes from a person on LinkedIn who says, “I’m a new manager, and I am really struggling with delegating. How do I go about doing this effectively in a way that doesn’t make me feel so awkward?”

I recently had a conversation with one of my new managers, and he said the same thing. “I hate delegating, delegating. It makes me feel like I’m copping out. And it makes me feel like I’m pushing my work off onto my teammates who used to be my peers.”

So, we talked about what makes an effective delegation, and here are my thoughts on it.

  1. To be a good manager, you must delegate. Ask yourself, “should I be managing this or doing this?” And if the answer is managing it and you’re doing it, you queue to delegate.
  2. Delegation needs to have guidelines, boundaries, expectations. You can’t just say, “here, take on this project.” Share why you are delegating the project, what’s expected, the timelines, and the resources needed to be successful.
  3. Always ask the person’s opinion on the project. Ask what they think of it and how they would go about hitting milestones. Ask if there is a different way to look at it. You might be surprised at what you learn, and you’ll show you care about their opinion.
  4. Always follow up. I think many managers make a mistake assuming it will get done. Still, you never know if a person struggles with prioritization or has another competing deliverable or an expectation that isn’t in alignment. Follow-up allows for course correction, allows for dialogue on the project or tasks, and it helps hold you and the person you are delegating to accountable.
  5. Another mistake managers make is that they don’t consider what needs to come off a person’s plate to make room for the delegated task. Now I’m a big believer in stretching people, so they learn and expand their competency zone (no, not their comfort zone 😊). We can only get better at doing hard things by doing hard things, and taking on new tasks are an excellent way for an employee to grow. But sometimes people’s plates are just overloaded, especially today when we’re trying to do more with less, so great managers ask their teammates, “If you take this on, is there something that needs to come off of your plate? Let’s go through the lower priority work and push it out so that you can take this on and be successful.”

So those are my tips on delegation; it’s a critical skill set to learn as a manager, but it’s not easy. I

recently made a mistake of delegating and not giving clear exceptions, and my team performed a bunch of work unnecessarily. This was frustrating to all of us and would have been avoided if I had been clearer in my expectations.

Like this: check out my blog on how to be a great manager.

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