When someone gives you “constructive” feedback, it’s personal.
When someone suddenly takes you off a pet project, it’s personal.
When someone talks behind your back, it’s personal.
We’re told to not take “things” personally – especially in the workplace. And I would like to suggest instead that you take it to heart – especially if it’s tough to hear. Feel the sting. Don’t react. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Don’t justify and defend. Just see if it uncomfortably resonates.
And then if it does, thank the person for their candor and change your attitude or behavior. To gain clarity on how to move forward, you may want to ask this individual, or those who are a stand for your success, “What would it look like if I were being a different way? If I changed X attitude or behavior?”
And if it doesn’t, ask for more clarity – “Help me understand why this is your experience of me? What am I missing?” You can always let them know you don’t see what they see, and that it doesn’t resonate, but that you’re willing to try it on over the next few weeks to see if there’s something there.
Many would tell you just to “let it go”. And the truth is, we don’t. We fester. We close off. We fake. We may even obsess. Until you’ve actually considered the potential validity of what’s been posed, you can’t let it go.* So consider it. And thoughtfully respond.
When someone praises you, it’s personal.
When someone promotes you, it’s personal.
When you’re asked to head a project, it’s personal.
*Confessions of a culture consultant: I once had a close colleague tell me she didn’t know if I really cared. I was horrified – me? Not care? How’s that possible? I’m Choose People people! I did the “right” thing by my internal accommodator and I apologized. Though I really couldn’t believe it – and so I apologized for that which I wasn’t sorry for. I wanted off the hook, without considering the validity. And then I mentally obsessed and defended some more. And I was mad – how could she think that of me? I care. I care a lot. (And I do.) I was sad and frustrated and definitely not feeling close to her. This was personal. It wasn’t until I confessed to not really understanding her perspective and asked how she arrived at that experience of me that I was able to move forward. What would it look like for her to know I cared? And surprise, I considered her responses as a way to improve myself. Personal indeed.
Ever since, I start with curious inquiry rather than an accommodating apology.