Don’t Take it Personally. Really?

It’s so simple to advise, “Don’t take it personally.” And yet, too often, it’s utterly useless advice to someone in conflict. There’s something else they have to do first, before they can hope to stop taking it personally:

They have to take it more personally.

It’s a meritorious goal, not to take it personally. Yes, it is. When we can pull it off we do our mamas proud. Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz was right when he said, “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

The trouble is, conflict has an insidious way of preventing our reasoning selves from landing the plane. Conflict has a way of wrestling the controls from our hands, hijacking us, and flying us to the lip of Kilauea Volcano.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just magically pull it off because I’m advised to do so. Call me obstinate or inept. And I’ve worked with an awful lot of people who couldn’t help but take it personally and I doubt that only the most flawed people in the world have somehow found their way to me. No, I don’t think it’s because they were flawed or unskilled or lazy.

I think it’s because conflict by its very nature lives in our gut and chews on our insides and the discomfort of that experience distracts us from lofty objectivity. Conflict is conflict because it is personal, at some level.

To learn how not to take it personally, we must first take it more personally. We must step closer to it, wrap our arms around it, accept it, and work with it. We must understand why it’s eating at us instead of trying to hold it at arms length and examine it like a museum specimen.

When we allow it closer, instead of pushing it away, we allow ourselves to be taught by it, to learn what that gut-wrenching is trying to teach us. We learn something that can set us free.

I have something coming in the next few months that will help you free yourself. Stay tuned for details.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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