Go Ahead, Take It Personally

In facilitating difficult conversations around conflict in organizations, I hear one consistent request from the participants:

People shouldn’t take things personally.

If “they” would stop taking things so personally, we could move through these issues more quickly. For everyone who is nodding their heads and saying “yes, that happens here too!” I’ve got some bad news:

Everything is personal.

If it happens to you, then it’s personal. And if it should impact you in a way that triggers your emotions, remember that the emotional part of the brain works faster than the rational part. You will have your feelings before you have a chance to think about them.

So you really don’t have a choice but to take things personally, and neither do your colleagues. Of course, very often you were not intending to have such a personal impact on the other person. This is quite common, and it’s useful to be able to have a conversation that separates out the intention from the impact. But be open and honest about the impact (even when it’s personal). Denying it or declaring that others shouldn’t have that impact is counterproductive.