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The Power of Not Taking Things Personally

I once went out for coffee with an influential community leader who I had only met in passing at group meetings but not had the pleasure of talking to one-on-one. The last time I had seen her, I shared my card and expressed that I would be interested in getting together again. Within a day, she followed up to schedule a meeting. As a fundraiser who typically has to persist to get a response for time with busy people gave me a gut feeling something was up.

At the coffee house, we had a very pleasant conversation about our backgrounds and what led us to our current positions. The discussion shifted toward the topic that had last connected us in a group meeting. I could tell she wanted to talk about something but wasn’t sure how. I asked for her guidance as my organization was undertaking a large project in a field outside our typical reach. With that opening, she shared some concerns about a prospective partner that could tie back to my work.

While it was tough to hear a problematic situation that I now had to deal with, I appreciated her willingness to share and probed deeper. What would she do in my shoes? What other factors could impact the project? Was the intent and plan behind my portion of the effort clear? As she saw I wouldn’t wilt under the pressure of a critical perspective, she shared great insights. The factors going on behind the scenes. Political undercurrents. Things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. My lack of reaction gave her the comfort to continue sharing and making the dialogue focused on what could be done, not the incident of her concern.

Although I’ve become used to taking criticism, it’s never easy to hear. But reflecting on this valuable conversation, I realized that by welcoming her opinion without being defensive of taking it personally, I learned so much more by controlling my reaction. I’ve always placed a great deal of weight on the opinions of others (probably too much!) and constantly seek approval, so being comfortable with criticism has been a skill I’ve had to force myself to learn. In this case and many others, it proved to be a powerful one. I built a relationship of trust with this person and showed my commitment to the BEST way, not just MY way. I know that if there’s something I need to know in the future, she’ll tell me because she’ll be confident I can handle it.

How do you respond to criticism? Do you shut down the conversation? Apologize and back down? Or become confrontational? How would you like to respond? How can you practice that next time you find yourself in a difficult situation? Like any muscle, it will be hard at first but does get easier the more you work at it.

Like this topic? Here are some great articles that dive into the issue on a deeper level:

A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations

8 Ways to Stop Taking Things Personally

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