Don’t Take It Personally

January 17, 2023
Younger hand holding an older person hand

Precipitating Factors could be problems at home or a car breaking down on the way to work—anything that contributes to a person acting irrationally or lashing out over a seemingly small incident, acting outside of their normal behavior.

Have you been on the receiving end of someone’s acting-out behavior? How did you feel during and after the hostility? Hurt, upset, confused, mad? Did you feel that you must have done something wrong? Or did you want to yell right back at the person? 

We need to stay calm and in control and try to not take someone’s hurtful behavior personally. In our Verbal Intervention™ training program, we refer to this as Rational Detachment. If we don’t practice Rational Detachment, we are more likely to respond in a defensive, argumentative way, which could further escalate a situation. Our intent in a situation like this is to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

So how do we rationally detach when someone goes off on us?

1. Have a Plan

One of the first things we recommend is that you have a plan ready ahead of time for how to respond to some common outbursts that could occur in your workplace. Practice calm, professional responses to the outbursts you may face by visualizing yourself in a situation with a difficult person and responding exactly how you would if the outburst was really happening. This “strategic visualization” is a common concept, especially in sports, where athletes visualize themselves in game situations running the perfect route for a touchdown, having a perfect shot off the tee to set up a birdie shot, or acing a serve.

2. Use Positive Self-Talk

Another way to rationally detach is to not take the other person’s behavior personally and use positive self-talk.  We need to realize that we may not be the true target of someone’s hostile behavior and that anyone else could have received the same outburst. Tell yourself, “This may not be about the two of us; it may be about other issues in his life.” Or repeat to yourself, “I’m going to be respectful. I’m going to be respectful.”

3. Release Negative Energy

It’s very important that we explore ways to release the negative energy gathered during a confrontation. Positive ways of doing this include exercising, taking breaks, and meditating. For example, right after a conflict occurs, take a break and walk around outside to clear your head. Or call a loved one to talk and prevent you from replaying the conflict over and over in your mind. Or drive around blaring music and singing to calm down and release stress.

These quick reminders are great ways for you to maintain and promote workplace cultures full of respect, service, and safety all year round. 

Please help fellow readers by sharing your favorite positive ways to expel negative energy absorbed during conflicts!

Originally published February 27, 2013.

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