Interpersonal Edge: Your coworkers' prickliness is about them, not you
Sunday, May 15, 2016


By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
 Q. The people I work with seem rarely to take the way they affect me into account. Why do they think so little of me? How can I work well with others when they appear to have no interest in my needs?
  A. You can work well with others if you stop taking them personally. People rarely know you or think of you enough to make it true or logical that their behavior is motivated by you.
  Using advanced interpersonal skills at work requires a dawning awareness that we should not take other people's behavior personally. Yes, it is common and tempting to think an angry person is angry at you. You may also believe an arrogant person is contemptuous of you. You'd be more accurate if you just stopped at the angry and arrogant part of these observations.
  People walk around in their own snow globes. Some people live in heaven, some people live in hell, and some are in between. When you engage other people, they will share the snow globe they live in with you. You are simply not powerful enough to create someone else's snow globe.
  American businessman Olin Miller sagely remarked, "We probably wouldn't worry about what people think about us if we knew how seldom they do." Miller is right on that; very few people think of us much, if ever, so why do we take others so personally?
  The reason we take people so personally is that we took our parents personally. Whatever our parents conveyed to us remains a permanent part of our psyche. If they told us we were good, beautiful and resourceful we are lucky. Most of us received darker and more negative messages.
  Since we took our parents personally we walk around for the rest of our lives just waiting for other people to agree with our parents. Try this experiment: What was the most painful comment your parents made? Now ask yourself what comment you find most painful at work? Notice there are connections between the comments you fear and the ones you received?
  There's a powerlessness in recognizing how little we control others reactions to us but there is also enormous freedom. If you try on the theory that you're not the cause of everyone's response you'll see people through a more accurate lens. If you keep obsessing about what is wrong with you, you'll miss a huge amount of data about the problem.
  Many of my new clients spend hours wondering why some people are mean to them. My clients review everything they've done for that person, they review every word they have spoken, and every action they didn't take. I point out to my clients that this emotional forensic examination of their behavior is missing the point. My clients don't consider that there isn't always an equal sign between what we do and how other people respond.
  If you want to expand your effectiveness at work, pretend nothing at work has anything to do with your value. Look at everyone around you through this lens and discover what you would see if you stopped thinking you were the critical center of everyone else's world. 
  People in general are not unconcerned with your needs; they are simply more interested in their own. Most people will help you with your needs if they can see that you will help them with theirs.
  On Monday, suspend your obsessing about your flaws and study closely the needs of others around you. You cannot see what is around you if you falsely believe you are the secret motivator of everyone's behavior.
  The last word(s)
  Q. I've had a series of career setbacks and find myself ruminating about the mistakes I made, the actions I should have taken and how others should have acted. I'm miserable! Is there a way to deal with the way things are when you hate where you are?
  A. Yes, grieve, feel and act on what is now true. American mythologist Joseph Campbell recommended, "We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This column was printed in the May 15, 2016 - May 28, 2016 edition.

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