Don't Take It Personally

Don't Take It Personally - Podcast Episode with Beth Wonson


  • Scarcity Mentality (5:13)

  • Imposter Syndrome (5:57)

  • Drama and chaos are more comfortable than vulnerability and risk-taking (7:29)

  • How to not take things personally (9:49)

  • How to Handle Negative Feedback (14:38)

Don’t Take It Personally

How many times during the course of your day do you overhear things, see things, read things and take them personally? Man, oh man! I know that happens to me.

I can be in a room full of people, overhear a comment, and think, Oh my gosh, that’s got to be about me. I can notice somebody across the room have a reaction and think, Oh gosh, they think I look ridiculous in this outfit. I can hear my partner vent a frustration about something not working correctly, and I can take it personally that I didn’t do a better job fixing it, installing it, or buying it.

All of those things come into play. But I’m going to ask you a question—

What would be different in your life if you never took anything personally again? 

Confusing Energy and Body Language

Here’s a little story for you…

I was facilitating a brainstorming session as part of a strategic planning. This is an opportunity for a team to put forth their ideas and thoughts about what they envision the company looking like and being able to achieve in the next 10 years. 

It was an opportunity to dream – to dream BIG – and in the spirit of brainstorming, all ideas and thoughts got written up on the big whiteboard. But something interesting began to happen… Almost every time one of the members of the team put forth a thought or an idea, the owner of the business shifted in her seat with a strange look on her face, or she kind of turned her body away from the table.

As I noticed this behavior, I also noticed that the energy and the excitement with which the team was putting forth ideas was diminishing, completely petering out, and eventually, getting ideas on the whiteboard felt like pulling teeth. 

So, I finally got curious and asked the owner, “Hey, I’m noticing some energy and some body language coming from you that’s confusing to me. Can you help me understand what that’s about?”

Now, this team had not yet done a lot of work on developing trust, on shared perspective taking, or on being vulnerable and taking risks, so I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure what her response was going to be. I also wasn’t one hundred percent sure if her response was going to be directed towards me—

  • “I don’t like the way you’re facilitating.”

  • “I don’t care for the direction you’re taking this.”

  • “I can’t believe we’re paying you, of all people, to be doing this work, and you’re not even qualified.”

So I, too, even though I was in the role of facilitator, I felt vulnerable. I was taking it personally along with the rest of the group. So why do we do that?

Why do we take things personally?

The first thing is, we have a scarcity mentality – there’s not enough. 

We may be thinking:

  • There’s not enough business.

  • There’s not enough work.

  • There aren’t enough clients.

  • There’s not enough space for me to be bold and brave.

  • There’s not enough trust in the room.

  • There’s not enough empathy.

The second thing IS, our impostor syndrome gets in the way:

  • Who am I?

  • Who am I to be facilitating this high-profile team?

  • Who am I to be getting paid to do this work that I love so much?

Or for participants in a strategic session, for team members, and, from my example, for her staff:

  • Who am I to have ideas and thoughts and dreams and beliefs?

  • Who am I to put them forward to the owner of the company?

  • Who am I?

I’ve worked with so many leaders, particularly women leaders, who struggle with impostor syndrome – and it’s shocking to me, the disparity between the number of female leaders who feel this way versus male leaders—

  • Who am I to be in this position?

  • Who am I to be vice president of a company?

  • What if they find out that I’m not qualified?

  • What if they find out what I’m thinking?

  • What if they find out that I don’t know every single thing there is to know?

The impostor syndrome gets us in that space that we believe we should be the expert, when the reality is we’re our most powerful and our strongest when we are curious, agile learners.

The third thing is, drama and chaos can be much more comfortable than vulnerability and risk-taking. 

It’s easier for us to take things personally because then in the absence of information, we create stories, and those stories generate all kinds of drama and chaos – drama and chaos that allow us to not engage in the discomfort of being vulnerable and taking risks, being confident, and dreaming big. 

So what do I mean by that? Let’s get back to my story about that strategic session…

Disrupting the Tendency to Create Stories

Remember that the owner of the business was giving a really confusing energy and body language and the team was taking it personally and withdrawing and pulling back? I knew that if I did not step into what was happening, if I did not disrupt what was happening, the team was going to spend their next break huddled and talking or texting other people in the company, and saying—

  • “You’re not going to believe what she was doing in the meeting.”

  • “You’re not going to believe how she was responding.

  • “Watch how when we come out of here because she’s going to be mad, mad, mad.”

  • “This is a big waste of time. She is not open to anybody’s feedback or responses.”

  • “I don’t know why, when I have so much work to do, I have to sit in this room.”

  • “This company is so screwed up. As soon as I get back to my desk, I’m looking for another job, and you should, too.”

Right? Can’t you see it going there? People texting each other, drama and chaos happening everywhere.

So I knew that I absolutely had to disrupt this energy, even though I was kind of taken it personally, too. So how did I do that?

How to not take things personally

Well, the first thing I did was get really curious. I stepped out of my belief that I needed to be the expert who knew how to facilitate this scenario and, instead, I could be curious about what was happening. I could accept what was happening with an, “Oh my gosh, here is going to be a learning opportunity for me and for everybody else in the room. Isn’t that fascinating?”

The second thing I did was just ask: “Hey, I just want to check in for a minute. I’m sensing some energy and body language coming from you which I’m finding confusing, and I just want to check in around it. What’s happening? Can you share what’s going on for you?

Now, this is not always easy because we may have a fear about how the other person may respond. That’s why I teach – and I love – the Navigating Challenging Dialogue Skills Training (link). This workshop helps us build competency, confidence, and skills for asking clarifying questions that allow the elephant in the room to come forward in a way that people don’t have to take it personally. This is such an important piece of work so we can reduce drama and chaos in our relationships and in the organizations within which we work.

So as I asked her that question, with genuine curiosity, I held space for the unspoken truth to come forward. And do you know what she said?

Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. I was in my garden for four hours yesterday, and sitting in this chair in this meeting is wreaking havoc with my back. I cannot get comfortable, and every single time I move, I get a shooting pain in my back. I don’t know if I need to stand up, I didn’t bring any Advil with me … I’m not sure what to do, but I am so sorry it’s distracting people.

I heard the collective sigh of relief in the room – including my own. It was palpable, and the energy shift was unbelievable. I watched the team that had been pulling back and shutting down – and not wanting to participate anymore in this investment of time and energy – I saw them fall in, become supportive, have empathy, and ask her the crucial question: “How can we support you?

Well, somebody found Advil. Somebody showed her a couple of stretches that she could be doing. And she said, “You know, I think if it’s OK, if I just get up and sit down and get up and sit down and move around and shift in my chair, if everybody’s okay with that, I can probably get through the rest of the meeting.” 

That was great because her behavior no longer became distracting. We didn’t make up stories about what it meant, and we didn’t take it personally. We all understood this is totally about her and has nothing to do with us! It freed the way for us to move forward.

How to Handle Negative Feedback

And if her response had been –

“You know, I don’t feel like this is valuable. I don’t feel like people have really prepared for this meeting, and I’m frustrated that I’m wasting time and energy on a task when people aren’t prepared.”

– the first step would have been to not shoot the messenger, to not become defensive, to not try and justify, but instead, to explore the message from my own perspective, to ask myself the tough questions and be honest with myself: Did I prepare? What could’ve I done differently? Am I operating outside by skill set? That is the work of self-awareness.

The next thing would have been to ask for feedback. Not necessarily in this meeting, but if the message had been a tough one to hear, I always recommend that people double-check by asking three people for feedback – two they trust and one they’re not quite sure about – and ask them:

  • “How do you experience me? Am I prepared?”

  • “How do you experience my skillset?”

  • “What are my strengths?”

  • “When I show up in a meeting, what do you know you can count on from me?”

  • “When I show up in a meeting, what is it that you may be nervous about or dreading?”

  • “Where are my blind spots?”

  • “Where can you add information that might be important for me to know?”

And when you’re asking for this kind of feedback, your job is to listen, to hear it, and to say, “Thank you.” The work of the practice is to listen and hear the answers without reacting, without shutting down or becoming defensive.

Now, if the feedback is unclear to you or sounds completely foreign, what you can do is ask for clarification:

  • “Hm. That’s fascinating that you’ve noticed that. Could you help me by giving me an example of when you see this?”

  • “Could you say a little bit more about that?”

And again, listen to it, hear it, and express your gratitude. 

It’s important to remember that the people you ask for feedback are also taking a risk. They’re also being vulnerable. And so your job is to hear the message but not shoot the messenger.

The benefits of not taking things personally

So, what is the benefit to us when we can adopt the mindset of Don’t Take It Personally? Well…

  • We reduce drama and chaos.

  • We learn about ourselves.

  • We practice vulnerability and risk-taking, which are essential for trust-building, and

  • We become curious, agile learners who are empowered to fully show up, be present, and be part of forward movement.

Just proclaiming “I will not take things personally!” or “That’s not personal. I know it’s not personal.” isn’t enough to switch us.

Not taking things personally is a practice. It’s a choice. It’s a decision that we make again and again about how we want to show up in the world.

And so remember, these are the steps. When you feel yourself taking something personally–

  1. Get curious.

  2. Check in. Ask for more information.

  3. Accept that, in the absence of information, we tend to create stories, and in those stories, we put ourselves as the focal point. That leads us into drama and chaos.

Choosing to be curious and to ask is the pathway away from drama and chaos.

In my Navigating Challenging Dialogue™ Skills Training, we learn the tools, tips, and strategies to question our thoughts and clear our emotions, to let go of story, and to engage in tough dialogue – emotional dialogue, vulnerable dialogue – from a place where we are clear and clean and know how to manage ourselves.

Imagine living your life without taking everyone else’s actions, thoughts, or words personally. Imagine what would be different for you if you never again had the thought, “Oh my gosh, this must be about me.

Go to and check out all the resources available for you to begin to show up in a world where, not necessarily do you not take things personally, but you have an increased awareness around your choice and empowerment on how to do it differently. 

Wishing you a life without drama and chaos,