It’s not personal. It’s business.

4 03 2009


NOTE TO SELF: Do not take anything personal. Especially at work. Especially when you’re a girl.

NOTE TO READERS:  In hindsight, all references to women in this article can also apply to “nice guys”

I can’t help but think of  Meg Ryan’s character in “You’ve Got Mail.” She represents the woman who oozes sugar and spice and everything nice.  As a girl to a young woman, she as been successfully wired to be caring, optimistic, and polite.  This is very fitting for girl scouts, prom queens, and debutantes.  As a grown woman in the business world, it is important to understand how years of sugar and spice hardwiring affect a woman’s behavior in the workplace.  Often, a woman’s thoughtfulness, unselfish-ness, and consideration for others can make her look weak, unprofessional, or incompetent.

For example, many women have a terrible habit of over-apologizing, even when they are not at fault, mostly because we’ve been hardwired to be polite in every situation.  Some women can be too helpful, voluntarily putting themselves in subservient tasks that leave leadership opportunities amiss.  But the biggie is taking things too personally (comments, actions, or lack of comments or actions by others).  This is mostly because our environs have nurtured us to become sensitive, caring women carrying the burden of trying to be perfect porcelain dolls.  You would think that a lifetime of criticism from our parents, and relatives would help us take things less personally.  But with family, you assume they have to love you (somewhere deep down), and in the real world, its easier for people to dish criticism than taking the time to teach and encourage.

I’m not nearly as sensitive as Meg Ryan’s character, but I often think of the movie scene where she is told she must “go to the mat”  as I attempt to keep my cool, bite my tongue, and keep all forms of retaliation in check while at the office.  The office is no place for emotions… nor is the company restroom.  I take the elevator to escape to another floor altogether, because I don’t even want other ladies to see me that vulnerable, or that crazy.  More often than crying, sometimes I get so frustrated that I need to kick the hell out of the restroom partitions in order to release my rage.

In the movie, Tom Hanks’ character advises her:

“You’re  at war.  “It’s not personal.  It’s business.  It’s not personal.  It’s business.”  Recite that to yourself every time you feel you’re losing your nerve.”

Not taking things too personally can be a complicated process.  Its the stuff of self-esteem, nurturing environs, pep talks by close friends, even via the bathroom mirror.  The easiest way is to repeat the mantra “It’s not personal. It’s business.”  Business has many rules, this is just one of them.  Repeat it over and over again and remember that the most successful people don’t let criticism hold them down.  They keep an open mind, and instead of retaliating with fruitless comments, they try to use those comments to either improve themselves or prove the naysayers wrong.

This is how the most successful people in business, science, acting, or any other field PUSH THE ENVELOPE.

Taking things personally can be triple damage:

1.  You allow another person’s actions to penetrate your vulnerability.

2.  Oftentimes, you will react or retalliate in a manner most unbecoming, unprofessional, or uncivil.

3. Allowing another person’s comments to discourage/anger/make you cry,  is taking time and energy away from your path toward your goals.

They should really consider adding two new commandments.  “Thou shalt not criticize non-constructively.”  and “Thou shalt not take things personally (and retalliate in senseless anger).”  How do I get in touch with the Pope?




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