One of the more difficult, and important, things for us to do as adults is to understand that most of the things that happen to us, or around us, are not personal. In fact, despite sometimes being directed toward us, they often have very little to do with us at all.
It’s tempting to believe that the events unfolding around us have been thoughtfully crafted to influence us or designed to upset us and throw us off our game. Most of the time, however, neither of these scenarios is true. People are doing what they do as a result of being themselves. It may not be pleasant and it may cause you discomfort, but it is rarely a well thought through plan to do something to you. In other words, it’s not personal.
Recently, we were brought into an organization to deal with two managers who were at each other’s throats – and in fact had almost come to blows after a meeting. Sounds bad, right? We met individually with the two managers and inquired about their experiences. Each manager was quick to state that the other manager was committed to making his life a living hell!
What we learned, in the course of these meetings, was that while the behaviors each reported about the other was accurate; the intention behind the behavior was completely inaccurate and was the true source of the problem.
Let’s meet the managers:
Jim by nature is quiet, reserved and generally prefers working alone. Peter by nature is inquisitive, collaborative, and generally prefers working with others.
Peter believed that Jim was trying to sabotage him when Jim would sit quietly in meetings, never sharing his opinion and declining invitations to work collaboratively.
Jim believed that Peter was belittling him when Peter would ask Jim to explain a point that he had made, repeated his opinions to make a point and kept telling Jim to reach out to other members on the team.
As you can see, Jim was just being Jim and Peter was just being Peter. At no time was Jim “being Jim” to disrupt Peter’s life and vice versa. Instead, they were being themselves and the more stressed they were, the more often they engaged in the behaviors that came naturally to them!
Once Jim and Peter understood that they had very different styles of working, and that under the stress of deadline-driven projects they were more of themselves, they were able to shift from reacting to one another and could move instead toward achieving their shared goal. They both agreed that while they were not likely to become good friends, they could shift from a defensive posture to one of understanding and move forward.
Take a few moments today to identify those things that you believe are directed at you personally. Then pause (there’s that pause again) and reflect on your assumptions. Hard as it may be to believe, most people are not, in fact, doing things to you – they are just doing what they do. You may not like what they do but once you can get perspective on their words, tone or actions, you can move away from reactivity and choose how to respond. There will be times when, if you have the option, you will decide to respond by creating distance from the person who you are struggling with so that, in that distance, you can see their behavior for what it is and go forward in your efforts.