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How to Stop Taking Things Personally at Work

How to Stop Taking Things Personally at Work

If you have a tendency to take things personally, you know it can wreak havoc on your career. I mean, spending upwards of eight hours in an office environment, stuck with a myriad of personalities you may (or may not) be attracted to, and often being subject to constant requests to perform, can end up constituting the perfect everyday storm for you. From dealing with attitudes changing as fast as the weather, to being under pressure to compete (albeit in a “healthy” way) for advancement, while juggling the rest of your busy life... how can you not take things personally at work?

While some may argue that you should take things personally in your career as a sign that you’re fully engaged and committed to your career. I happen to have a slightly different opinion, mostly based on experience.

After years of taking things personally at work, I realized how much of an  emotional and mental toll it had been taking on me. I came in to work day in and day out with so many expectations as to how I should be received, what I should be getting in terms of credit and opportunity, and how others should behave towards me, that I would set myself up for failure every single time. Every, single, time.

[Related: How to Adjust Your Attitude at Work in 2 Minutes]

If someone didn’t quite acknowledge my contribution to this or that project, I took it personally. If they didn’t invite me to a key meeting, I took it personally. If they didn’t include me in some project emails, I took it personally. And yes, there certainly were instances when I should have been involved in those key meetings and important emails. Yet, as “right” as I may have been about some of these situations, taking each and every one of these circumstances personally didn’t help me be a better team member or leader.

Yes, I was engaged in my work. I was  committed to my success. Hence the reason why I felt so slighted in the first place. But this side of engagement and commitment to my career brought out character traits that weren’t necessarily the best.

There‘s something about taking things personally that attributes others’ actions and reactions to us. It’s as if we’re telling the world: “All of this is happening because of me,” which also means we’re negating a gazillion other reasons, personal motivations and human factors in the process, all the while engulfing ourselves in an abyss of self-inflicted doubt, anger and grief.

[Related: Feeling Invisible at Work? Three Ways to Show Up and Get Noticed]

The more I’d take things personally, the more difficult it would be to objectively assess the various situations I’d encounter at work, and the more challenging it would be to build authentic, fruitful professional relationships. The lines between the personal and the professional, although intertwined in the day-to-day work life, now became so blurred it was literally impossible to work through them. Here are three tips to help you when you feel like taking things too personally:

1. Put yourself in time-out before reacting.

When TV personality Kelly Ripa got blindsided at work as her co-anchor abruptly left the show, she took a week off to clear her head. While she was largely criticized for it, it allowed her to come back with more perspective as she addressed the situation at hand.

In the same way, take some time out when facing a situation you risk to take personally at work. Whether it’s a day off, or even a few minutes locked in the bathroom stall, hold off on reacting at first. Instead, step away, take a breather, and evaluate the situation.

2. Ask yourself what the situation really means to you.

What does this annoying co-worker really mean to you? Or the promotion that was just given to someone else? Or even the bad review you just received?

Evaluate what that means to you, and if you should put so much mental and emotional energy into it. If it won’t matter to you next year, then why take it personally?

3. When you’re ready, gain clarification first -- then respond.

After taking time out and asking yourself what the situation at hand really means to you, seek to clarify it first. Ask your co-worker, team or boss the necessary questions to clarify what’s happening. Once you get enough information, then you can decide on the course of action to follow.

As much as our careers are part of our lives, and vice-versa, having a healthy separation between the two helps enrich each one, instead of putting too much weight on each. I learned to let work be work, and my personal life be my personal life. Of course, there are times when they intersect. Yet, in the midst of the confusion, challenges and victories of life and work, tracing a clear line of demarcation between the moments we experience is key to our sanity, and ultimately to our success.

To Your Success,

The Corporate Sis

This article previously appeared on The Corporate Sister.

Solange Lopes is an author, CPA and writer/blogger. She blogs about career and lifestyle for professional women in her blog The Corporate Sister. She’s passionate about writing and women’s issues.

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Community Discussion
Cassandra Telenko
Cassandra Telenko

Invest in ourselves instead of the work. The work will follow.

Friday, Jun 8 11:27 AM EDT

Sowjanya Amirapu (Anya)
Sowjanya Amirapu (Anya)

Thanks for the write-up. I always take things personally at work. Although I do not react at work, I always come back home crying or talking in great length on the situation with my husband. Working on it :)

Tuesday, Jun 26 11:38 AM EDT

Connie Oliver
Connie Oliver

Great advice, and naturally - easier said than done. lol I'm someone who needs to work on this in my personal as well as my professional life. Even when you KNOW it is about you, learning to say "that's okay" and put it aside is one of the toughest skills to conquer (at least for me.) Still a work in progress …. :-)

Tuesday, Jun 26 6:37 PM EDT

Nicole Reid
Nicole Reid

This is very valuable. It's something we see in others and experience in ourselves so frequently. No one ever tells you about this before you get into the work-world and it's so easy to develop habits that fester. Thank you for the insight!

Friday, Nov 30 2:31 PM EST

Nisrin Attarwala
Nisrin Attarwala

I can so relate to this! I had a very bad experience in my previous job because my friends turned on me and made it really hard to come to work everyday and I started taking things too personally. It got so bad that I had to take a month off of work. My sister helped me re-evaluate things. I came back stronger and am in a better place now. You need to put yourself first before work, that's what I did and I am in a better place now. Confident and back to my jovial self again.

Friday, Nov 2 2:53 PM EDT

Molly McGregor
Molly McGregor

This was so helpful. I find I react to work issues too emotionally and a controlled, emotionally intelligent response always helps to add legitimacy to the feedback.

Friday, Oct 4 8:47 AM EDT

Leah Knight
Leah Knight

This was incredibly helpful! I too am guilty for taking things personally and then have to work on re-balancing frequently. I'm working on taking things lighter and taking that time out.

Tuesday, Dec 31 2:03 PM EST