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Don’t Take It Personally

Don’t Take It Personally

By Donna Dunning

Donna DunningIn the 1990s chick flick, You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox builds a book superstore in a neighborhood where Kathleen Kelly owns an independent bookstore. As a result, her store goes out of business.

Their conversation goes something like this…

JOE: “It wasn’t personal.”

KATHLEEN: “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?”

Everyone can personalize, but for people who prefer Feeling, personalizing can be especially challenging. In fact, one of the personality type tips regularly given to people who prefer Feeling, is “try not to take things personally”.

But, like Kathleen, you may find it difficult to do.

Thoughts About How To Do It

Here are some strategies I use when trying to take people’s comments and actions less personally and more impartially.

1. Consider the speaker’s intent.

Usually when someone critiques my work or offers a suggestion for improvement they have good intentions. They want to help me improve or see something done better.

Sometimes people are JERKS. They are mean and nasty and I simply don’t take their words seriously. However, I do keep in mind that I might be the jerk, dismissing good feedback because I don’t want to hear it.

Sometimes a person’s intent is good, but their delivery lacks finesse. I try to see past this and not expect that everyone will speak to me the way I would prefer to be spoken to.

2. Reframe criticism as constructive feedback

Without feedback it is more difficult to learn and improve. I have learned to see critiques as opportunities to gain more information on, and insights into, a topic or situation.

As a writer, I greatly appreciate editors who spot my flaws and improve my work. In order to do this, I have to take my ego out of the equation and not be overly committed to my words.

3. Learn to love “challenging” questions

As an instructor, I have learned that students who ask questions are often engaged and motivated. So, before you interpret someone’s questions as an affront or challenge, keep this in mind. People need to question for many reasons and, for many (often those who prefer Thinking), it is their questioning that helps them to understand.

4. Separate mistakes from self-worth

Of course you screw up and make mistakes. I can’t even imagine the pressure that would come from trying to never make any mistakes.

You are human. Make mistakes, fix problems and carry on. Don’t see your mistakes as some global measure of your worth or competence.

5. Remember that sometimes people just lose it

Again, we are only human. I know I have said stupid things to people when I was wound up or hurt. Barbs thrown in anger are bad, but they happen.

I try to let them go rather than hold on to them tightly. Forgive and forget (I guess this is easy to say, but harder to do… another blog maybe?)

6. Readjust expectations

Sometimes we expect people to do things that we want them to do, usually things that you would do if you were in that situation.

I find when people don’t live up to my expectations I can interpret this as a lack of respect or concern. I have learned to deal with this by trying to accept people as they are and by not expecting them to react as I hoped they might.

7. Eat and sleep well; exercise and socialize regularly

These are my four main stress busters, as well as a good dose of gratitude. You may have a different combination of stress busters that work well for you. For me, paying attention to these four keeps my energy and spirits high. I am much less likely to personalize when I am feeling strong and happy.

Of course, my efforts in these 7 areas are less than perfect, but they are helping.

What other tips do you have for not personalizing what people say and do?


For more thoughts on communicating well read Introduction to Type and Communication.

If you live in the USA, Introduction to Type and Communication is now available on Kindle.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2014 at 8:46 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Don’t Take It Personally”

  1. Jessica says:

    I have just come across your site. This post was helpful and intriguing to me. I relate very much to her comment that you quote. I’ve have seen the character Kathleen Kelly typed as both INFJ and ISFJ in various places. My apologies for asking a question related to an older post, but I would love to know where you think Kathleen Kelly fits within the Myers Briggs’ framework, and why. Thank you very much!

  2. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m always hesitant to type a fictional character. Kathleen Kelly’s character obviously values her shop, her memories of her experiences there, and treasures reading. She is a rich character in a tough situation who does not want to lose what is important to her. I can see why people might think ISFJ (love for the shop and its’ history) or INFJ (love of the idea of reading and imagination) as possible preferences underlying her actions. I’ll just stick with the idea that she is expressing a feeling perspective and not try to guess what the author had in mind when creating the character.

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