Friday, October 9, 2009

Don't Take It Personally

Call me crazy, but I have convinced myself that most therapists have outgrown the habit of helping their patients to get in touch with their feelings.

When you think about it, how much advanced professional training does it really take to respond to your patient's disclosure with: "And how does that make you feel?" And why does anyone need a license to respond empathically with: "I feel your pain."

Unfortunately, this emphasis on personal feelings induces people to take everything personally.

This should not be too surprising. You may not recall but there once was a school of psychoanalysis that insisted on interpreting everything the patient said in terms of the here-and-now of the transference.

You were late for the appointment meant: you were hostile toward your analyst. You spit on the sidewalk meant: you were hostile to your analyst. You could not think of anything to say meant: you loved your analyst.

Hopefully, analysts have gotten beyond that too.

Anyway, the next step beyond, How does it feel?, must be: You shouldn't take it personally.

Thanks to the therapy culture too many people are over-reading incidents and events to make them personally meaningful. If your friend is late for your golf game, the fault does not lie in the traffic jam. He is purposefully insulting you. If your husband brings home a new toy for your son, that can only mean that he does not like you enough to bring home anything for you.

When you take things personally, you introspect a lot and worry about how you feel about how other people feel about you. This does not promote decisiveness.

As John Baldoni argues in a recent article, an executive who takes things personally will have difficulty functioning. He will put: "... what he wants to do ahead of what the company should do." Link here.

This has an interesting resonance for me. When I was studying psychoanalysis my analyst insisted that treatment was about discovering what you really, really wanted. Then all you needed to do was to act according to your desire.

According to Baldoni such an approach fosters hubris and arrogance, even if it is doing so unconsciously.

At the least this means us that psychoanalysis was not designed to make you into an effective executive or manager. Actually, it was not even designed to help you to better manage your personal life.

How do you then avoid taking things personally? Baldoni tells us that the first step is to identify with your executive or managerial position. That means that you should not consider yourself a uniquely independent, autonomous individual, but should see yourself as an executive who is dedicated to what is good for the company and good for your employees.

In other words... put your ego aside. You can even put it in a lock-box.

Next, you should not ask yourself what you want to do, but should introduce an ethical imperative and ask what you should do. What is the right thing to do, given company policy, company goals, company reputation, and company integrity.

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