Taking things personally at work

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At the very basic level, we all want to do our best at work (unless you really hate your job). We want to make sure we’re doing what’s required, so our colleagues enjoy working with us and we can keep our jobs.

Whilst we busy ourselves with the basic requirements, there are many things that can get in the way of us doing our jobs properly – and I don’t mean finding a sense of purpose. While it’s extremely important and will help you be more engaged, before you’re able to reach the Holy Grail of purpose, first you need to get through the day.

Taking things personally is something that can really prevent us from performing, and feeling happy in our jobs. First it waivers our self confidence, and second it’s detrimental to our relationships. If we take things personally, it means we have lower trust in others and are less likely to form strong bonds. It also means we’re more likely to get defensive and angry, quickly…

Sometimes you have a bad day and nothing can go right. You start thinking everything is against you: time, your colleagues, your company, the weather, the rest of the world… You name it! Or perhaps you generally feel that nothing ever goes your way and life is out to get you.  Regardless of whether the above rings true, there may be days when you’re asking yourself: “is it me, or did they just do that on purpose”? Or “is it me, or was that person digging at me?”.

The good news is, you’re not alone. Most of us will go through moments when we can’t help but wonder whether something was done intentionally to bother us. While there are times when that may be true, most of the time it’s definitely not personal.

I used to take a lot of things personally, practically to the extreme. Meetings I wasn’t invited to, mails I wasn’t copied in, tasks I was assigned or not, and so much more… I would read into the meaning of emails interpreting them as negative and against me. I also used to take criticism of my work extremely personally and saw it as a failure. I took it as a sign I hadn’t been able to deliver and had not done a good enough job.

As you may be able to tell, it’s exhausting to take things personally. But when you’re able let go, it’s extremely liberating. You free yourself of responsibility and self criticism and suddenly you feel more capable of dealing with more routine things. When you can free yourself from the self doubt and criticism, you’re able to enjoy your job more and do it better. The freedom in turn, enables you to be better at making decisions and taking ownership of your work.

The reality is, most people don’t have time to preoccupy themselves with others to the point of doing something to spite them. If someone forgets to invite you to a meeting, the likelihood they sat down and asked themselves what they could do to piss you off and settled on excluding you is very low. Similarly, if someone is negative about some work you’ve done, the probability they did it to be mean and hurt you is very low.

It would take a lot of time and silly plotting to do all these things on purpose, and thankfully we’re no longer in school. Of course, some people are genuinely petty and scheming but they are the minority. Most of us have to worry about our health, our families, our finances, etc. so business is business.

If you know you take things a bit personally and you’d like to try to let go, start by telling yourself a few of these things:

  • Everyone is entitled to a different opinion – that doesn’t make yours less worthy
  • People may do things differently than you, but that doesn’t mean your way is wrong (or theirs either)
  • We’re all learning so it’s natural to make mistakes along the way
  • No one knew what they were doing the first time they did it
  • For someone in my role – I’m doing the right things and I can’t be expected to have the knowledge of someone more senior to me
  • Nobody’s perfect – practice self compassion

Most importantly, work on improving your self confidence. The more you are able to believe in your work and be confident about your decisions, the less you will be impacted by what other people say. In fact, the more self confident you are, the less you will care about what other people may think – and it will help you realise what they’re saying is not about you at all.

Don’t confuse this with being cocky and overconfident, those are not character traits you want to have. You simply want to be confident enough in your abilities that what someone else says doesn’t make you doubt, or that you don’t take criticism personally, whilst being open to other opinions. 

Of course this won’t happen overnight, it’s a long process. But if you stick to it you should start to notice the difference. Focus on yourself, and you will reap the rewards in the long term.

 

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