How to Not Take Things So Personally

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How to Not Take Things So Personally

I’ve have the privilege several times to interview my friend Tom Henschel, a top executive coach and host of The Look & Sound of Leadership show. On a past episode, we discussed how to handle a boss who’s a jerk.


One of Tom’s key points was to not take it personally when we’re dealing with a someone who’s treating you poorly (easier said than done). While a lot of us know that we shouldn’t take things personally, on a practical level, we still do.

I’m not a fan of the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Sorry, but if someone treats you badly, it’s personal, whenever and wherever it happens to be.

That said, we can completely control how personally we take things. Although it may seem like it’s always about us, most of the time it’s simply not. Here are four practices you can implement to not make bad moments seem so personal:

1. Will you care in a year?

One of the reasons that we all take things personally is because we lose perspective. While personal attacks hurt, most of them simply don’t have the same raw feeling weeks and months later.

A question you should ask is, “Will I still care about this a year from now?” If yes, it’s likely worth your concern. If not (and more often this will be the case) it helps you get beyond the emotion of the moment.

Asking the question doesn’t make it easy, just easier to move on more quickly.

2. Get busy with other things

In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, one of the central messages from Dale Carnegie is this:

Keep busy.

You likely spend more waking hours at work each week than anywhere else. When somebody hits you at work with something that feels personal, of course you’ll be affected by it.

But you’ll be a lot more affected if you don’t have anywhere else to turn. If you have a strong sense of identity outside of the workplace and other activities going such as volunteer work, sports, faith community, and hobbies, it’s harder for one person or situation to bring you down. The people who care about you in these places can also help ground you when you need perspective.

3. Build up your positive reserve

One of the reasons you may take things personally is because something negative is suddenly focused on you and (right or wrong) it’s challenging not to fixate on it. Rarely is there someone there in the moment to balance it out with a positive message.

One mental hack is to stop and intentionally take a moment to consider something valuable you’ve done for someone else. Each of us have something that we’ve done that has made a difference.

I go a step further on this and keep a folder in my email account called “Love.” Whenever someone sends me something nice, I save it there. I’ve been doing this for years. When I need perspective, the evidence in that folder helps convince my brain that I’m not the loser I feel like in the moment.

4. Strengthen your network

The weaker your network, the more one person’s bad behavior affects you.

If you haven’t, go to company events and sit next to someone you don’t know. Send a note to someone you admire and ask to meet. Set up a LinkedIn account and start connecting with people in your industry. Volunteer to help with a company initiative.

Knowing there are lots of people out there that care about you will change your perspective and help you respond to personal attacks with a lot more confidence.

One more thing…

Zig Ziglar often said,

You can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.

One of the best ways to gain perspective is to help someone else achieve their goals. Open your ears. You’ll find needs everywhere.

What’s helped you?

What have you done to keep from taking things too personally? Post your response in the comments below.

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