"Don't take it personally," is an oft-used disclaimer. What does that really mean when you receive that message?
To me, it generally means:
• Criticism will follow. e.g. "Your report isn't clearly worded." "Do you always wear those baggy jeans?"
• The person speaking is trying to avoid your being defensive or angry in response to criticism.
• Or the person may want to get into a conflict with you, after which they end the conversation with, "You always take things so personally. I can't talk to you about anything."
Maybe you don't mind that conversational opener or closer. I do. I think it's disingenuous — particularly when it comes from men. Many women and men know that women are more likely to be emotional, to have the inner NST critic chatting all the time, and thus to take things personally.
Here are a few ideas about combatting the "Don't Take it Personally," approach.
• Quickly say, "Please be cautious in your wording. I will take it personally." If the person has good motives they will be careful and rethink the wording. e.g. "I think the report would be clearer if you also state the three most important points in a sidebar."
• Quickly say, "I won't take it personally. I understand you're just telling me your opinion. I might agree or I might disagree." If the person's motives are to get you on the defensive, this may disarm them slightly. Plus it helps you to reframe the comment.
• Remind yourself in your head, "He/she is telling me something about him/herself, not about me."
• Detach. Don't get into it. Listen. Perhaps say, "Interesting comment," and nothing more. If the speaker keeps at you, "How are you planning to fix the report?" you say, "I'll give it some thought."
Any of these options require restraint and calm — both of which are hard to achieve when you're ticked off, your NST is going 100 mph and you're feeling vulnerable. Nonetheless, just about anything is better than biting the bait, getting into it, and ending up feeling worse than ever.
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