It’s really easy to take criticism personal. Even gentle suggestions have a way of eating at us and sending us into emotional crisis.
Sometimes the criticism actually is personal. If someone says “I don’t like the way you chew your food or the way you say ‘Houston’.” it’s probably OK to assume that they’re really talking about you.
But the criticism we receive in our professional lives usually has nothing to do with who we are. If an angry customer calls you yelling about something you helped them with, they really aren’t attacking you, they’re attacking the role that you fill.
The same goes if your boss or a co-worker says something to you about being late for work or that they need changes to something you’ve done. They’re not commenting on your identity, they’re commenting on your role as an employee.
Who you are and what you do are two completely separate ideas that many people have a hard time splitting apart.
Who you are is who you were born as and who you grew up to be. It’s your you-ness and it’s completely independent of what you do for a living.
When someone calls the front desk of a hotel yelling at Bob, the desk clerk, they’re not yelling at Bob, they’re yelling at Bob’s job. They don’t know Bob and if he thinks it through, them yelling at him will have zero impact on how he feels about himself. He won’t take it personal.
That they’re yelling at a desk clerk says much more about them than it does about Bob.
If Karen’s boss tells her the report she worked on all day doesn’t meet his standards and needs to be corrected – that’s not a criticism of Karen. She doesn’t need to change who she is, but she may need to modify how she does her job.
The criticism may have been entirely valid, but if Karen takes it as a personal attack it’s probably going to create problems for her in the long run.
When we’re not careful about keeping track of the line between who we are and what we do, it’s really easy for us to get our feelings hurt and develop a bad attitude about the people we interact with.
The more you can separate those ideas, the happier you’ll be.