Do you ever take something personally? I thought so. Don’t we all? For some, it is a chronic problem; wired into our temperament and emotional DNA. On the other hand, I actually know a few folks on the far opposite end of the spectrum that you actually have to grab by the shirt and say to them: “no, this is personal“. For most of us, however, it just sometimes happens.
Unfortunately the emotions we feel and the behavioral reactions those emotions produce can often be self-abusive, counter-productive, taxing for those around us, and occasionally down-right immature. As a young manager, I was denied a management assignment I very much wanted and thought I richly deserved. Instead, I was given a job I did not in any way desire. At the time, it seemed a personal slight and a rejection of my talents, so I took it personally. Although I accepted the assignment I was given, I felt sorry for myself, emotionally down, under-appreciated, and I complained a lot — especially to my wife — about the unfairness of it all. That stopped, when she all but threatened to abandon me to the garage if I did not “grow up and get over it” but I certainly did not embark on the new job with much energy and enthusiasm.
Within six months, I had gained a completely different view of things. I quickly came to love my new challenge and just as quickly began to see that it was a far better fit for my skills and management style than the job I had failed to obtain. It was also clear that my boss had a better sense of where best to put my management skills to work than I did at the time. The entire episode was an important learning experience for me that served me well when facing other disappointing experiences in my management career.
Our human nature predisposes all of us to occasionally feel slighted by something that, from our perspective, negatively impacts us. But in truth, sometimes it is simply not about us, rather something about the it. There are myriad reasons that things happen that can negatively affect us as managers. We are often disappointed, frustrated, angry, and oh so tempted to react as if it is all somehow directed at us personally. So how can we tell the difference between us and it and maintain some control over our emotional and behavioral reaction?
First, give yourself some time to draw firm conclusions. Time affords us the opportunity to gain some distance from the inevitable immediacy of our emotional response, to cool down so to speak. It allows for the slower process of rationally thinking things through to occur; for gathering some facts and some additional perspective in particular.
Second, in a figurative sense, put duct tape over your mouth. Things said in the heat of emotion can have very long-term damaging effects. Once said, they can not be taken back. While you can ask for forgiveness and that things said be forgotten, you can forget the forgotten part. Controlling what you say — as opposed to what you may think — is what I have called elsewhere in these articles effective self-management and as a manager things said in the state of heightened emotion can do some significant damage.
Finally, take the time to gather some facts about the it; the decision, event, or outcome that at first seems somehow mostly about you. Talk to others, look at the broader picture, try putting yourself in someone elses shoes by asking what they might know that you don’t, try asking yourself what you might have done if you were not in the equation at all. Yes it can be hard getting outside yourself, especially if you have really been disappointed. But the best managers learn how to do this because it helps them keep their emotional and intellectual balance and their eye on the ball of getting their job done.
Even on those occasions where something occurs that is both about you and about it — the job you are denied, for example, because you currently lack the requisite skills — your ability to get beyond a sense of personal rejection is critical to your developing the skills needed for making a future run at that job.