There wasn’t a great deal of amusement at high school football practice. August and September in North Carolina can have the heat of an oven and the humidity of a steam room. Still, I sometimes found myself laughing at the rivalries that would spring up around the arbitrary division of the team during practice. Guys who were great buddies at the beginning of the day’s work would become heated enemies when placed on different teams. The insults and enthusiastic hitting that would take place in the context of an otherwise meaningless split made by the coaches were quite humorous.
I was explaining this to a friend at the time and she said something that stuck with me. In telling her that I gave my best effort but didn’t really find myself with anger she said, “You take it seriously. They take it personally.”
I have found it to be a challenge to resist taking things personally sometimes in the world of work. It may happen when we find our favorite idea rejected, or we feel like we’re competing against instead of working as colleagues. This is one of those areas that calls for us to be mature and emotionally disciplined. To be able to look at a situation and know it’s not about me is a high-level skill indeed.
We sometimes find ourselves at enmity with a colleague, perhaps for known reasons, but maybe we aren’t even sure why the tension exists. Often, though, we’ll come to the realization we are taking something personally that really isn’t personal. When this happens, we might fall into a false dilemma of either capitulating (in which case we think we’ll look weak) or trying to compete for dominance. In truth, there’s a third alternative: Taking the high road. It may seem by doing so you’ll lose the battle, and indeed you may, but you will ultimately win the war because the greatest war is inside you. You have to live with yourself and know you are the kind of person that anyone would want as a colleague.
You may find yourself thinking, “How do I act around this person?” And guess what? You’ve just answered your own question. You are to act and not to react. If you want to win that war against yourself, here’s the game plan:
- Every time you give your full, sincere attention to your colleague while he has the floor — you win.
- Every time you sincerely congratulate her on an accomplishment — you win.
- Every time you go out of your way to keep him informed to his benefit — you win.
- In short, every time you take the highest, most professional, most kind road — you win.
There are many other ways we can win friends and influence people at work, but it seems they are all predicated on making a conscious decision to stay on the high road, to resist the temptation to return the behavior you’re given.
One last note I’ve found regarding this. We have many well-meaning friends and colleagues who will take our side in difficult times and will buy into the notion we’ve been wronged. It’s important to remember that while we may indeed have grounds for being angry it is probably not helpful to enlist allies. There’s a feeling of intimacy that comes from having a mutual enemy. In truth, we grow more from keeping our independent judgement. Writer and singer Christine Kane puts it this way:
“Colluding is the best way to perpetuate the pattern of taking things personally. It takes a deep and committed discipline to shift out of this pattern. That’s because much of what we call friendship in our culture is little more than disliking the same people and staying stuck in our own versions of the truth and requiring that our friends agree with us. Collusion is rounding up people who believe your own illusions. Stop it.”
How much better to encourage each other to shift our perspective, and even perhaps change the subject to something more useful when we’re being recruited to help someone in viewpoints that aren’t helpful!
Like many others, I write about what I know. Unfortunately I know about this tendency from both sides. More than anything, I know you have important things to do…and this isn’t one of them.