Monday 31 March 2014

Don't take it so personally...

Time and again in my coaching, I hear those with whom I am working say things like: 'I know I shouldn't take it so personally...'

And they are right.

One of the best expositions of this is in Barry Oshry's excellent book, Seeing Systems.  In the opening chapters, he outlines how 'Stuff Happens' and how we react:

  • We make up stories about it
  • We take it personally
  • We react to it
  • And that is the end of the partnership.

  • He then points out the important truth: Much that feels personal is not personal at all.

    He explains the contexts within which stuff happens, and the contextual positions (top, middle, bottom, customer) of those with whom we might be engaging, and concludes:
    Stuff happens.
    We have two choices:
    We can take the actions of others personally
    and see where that gets us:

    • Lots of good stories with good parts for US and bad parts for THEM
    • Lots of evaluations
    • Excuses
    • Plenty of righteous indignation
    we can take their worlds into account.
    What are they dealing with?
    It may be harder work the is second way: 

    • Less reflex
    • More thought
    • Less blame
    • More compassion
    • Less righteous indignation
    • More power
    It's our choice.
    All of which reminded me of C W Metcalfe and his work on Humour, Risk and Change.  I particularly remember the moment when he draws a quick map of the Universe on a flipchart, explaining solemnly that it is expanding in all directions.  He then marks a point in the middle and explains it is the Center of the Universe (sic: he is American, after all). He then marks another point, and says: 'That's you - and when you confuse the two, you have lost the plot!'

    It gets a laugh: the joke is good, and his delivery and timing are excellent - and it touches a nerve.  Because we all know that we frequently react as though we are in fact the centre of the Universe (because we are the centre of our own...) So we say: 'How could they do this to me?' when in fact we weren't in their thoughts at all...

    Which leads me back to the notion of story: as Oshry points out, we make up stories to make sense of reality, and then believe them to be true.  So when we feel hurt, attacked or otherwise afflicted by the Stuff that others inflict on us, it is worth re-visiting the story behind the hurt: and recognising that it is, more often than not, at least an oversimplification, if not a complete fiction.

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