3 Ways to Stop Taking Other People’s Drama Personally

Extraordinary people are bulletproof to other people’s drama. Insults, rejection and criticism roll off their backs like waves breaking on rocks. What’s their secret?

If you’ve wondered about this, you’re not alone. We all know what happens when we take things too personally. Whether you’re at work, at home or on Social Media, SOMEONE eventually says something that gets under your skin.

Yet, many times, instead of letting it go, you fire back. Then the other person fires back. Then YOU fire back. Before you know it, your blood pressure at a boiling point. You’re saying things you can’t take back. By the time it’s over, you feel as bad as you would after a 3,000 calorie chocolate binge. How could you let someone get under your skin like that?

Extraordinary RARELY have this problem. They’re masters of verbal conflict. They have an uncanny ability to turn conflicts into healthy negotiations.

They know how to defuse a situation without compromising their values. Most importantly, they know when to stand their ground and when to walk away.

Here are three ways you can do the same…

1#: Drive Out Self-Consciousness With Self-Awareness

After more than 10,000 hours of one-on-one coaching experience, I’m convinced that self-awareness is the “Golden Key” to unlocking the magnetic confidence you see in extraordinary people. I’ve never met a confident person who lacked self-awareness. Likewise, I’ve never a person who was insecure in spite of being self-aware.

Unfortunately, self-awareness is often overshadowed by self-consciousness. And self-consciousness is how people get under your skin. Next time someone offends you, ask this before you fire back at them…

“What need am I trying to fill with what I’m about to say?”

It will likely be one of these three…

  1. The Need for Stability
  2. The Need for Stimulation
  3. The Need for Respect

Take the first need, Stability, for example. If your spouse says something that makes you feel uncertain, they’ve hit your need for stability. Sometimes, this causes you to say stupid, clingy or even hurtful things in order to feel in control again. Once you realize that your need for stability is driving such responses, you can replace them with better ones.

Same with the need for Stimulation. Sometimes we fire back at people simply because we’re under-stimulated and looking for an argument. This is common for people who grew up in a home with lots of “verbal sparring.” Case in point, in my early 20’s, I discovered that I’d developed an “addiction to chaos.” If I hadn’t argued with one of my friends or family members in a few days, I had to start an argument.

Finally, we have the need for Respect. This is the most common reason we take things personally. Everyone has a basic need for respect. We don’t like being belittled or lied about. This is understandable. But sometimes, we perceive things as disrespectful when they really aren’t.  Other times, we fire back at every minor offense.

This is especially challenging for men since we tend to treat conversations as competitions. It’s part of how we interact with the world.

When someone disrespects us, we want to put them in their place. When someone attacks our character or reputation, we want to immediately correct the record. Sometimes, this is necessary. Especially if you have a public reputation to protect.

But you should ALWAYS know when you’re firing back simply because you felt disrespected. If you do this too often, people might start taking jabs at you JUST to get a response. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

My point is, self-awareness is the antidote for self-consciousness. It’s the detached awareness of your own desires, fears and/or prejudices. The more self-aware you are, the harder it will be for people to rattle you with their words. Instead, you’ll be able to calmly observe your internal reactions before they become words or actions.

#2: Know Which “Language Mode” People Are Using

This is HUGE. But it’s also a little complicated, so bear with me. The Linguistic Philosopher John Searle claimed that people don’t always use language to describe things as they truly are. Instead, they sometimes use language as a “softer” substitution for physical actions. He called this a “speech act.”

For example, if I say….

“There’s a book on that table.”

I’m clearly making a statement about reality as I see it. That’s a descriptive use of language.

But if I say this…

“Bring me that book!”

I’m now using language as a tool to influence your actions. This is a simple example of what Mr. Searle meant by a “speech act.” And if you pay attention to how people use language, you’ll discover how brilliant this idea is. To summarize, people use two “modes,” of speech…

  • MODE #1: Descriptive Speech
  • MODE #2: Speech Acts

MODE #1 is simple. When we describe reality as we understand it, we’re using descriptive speech. For example, if I say…

“My name is Seth Czerepak. I’m 6’1 and I have dark curly hair and dark eyes.”

…I’m simply giving you a physical description of myself. That’s descriptive speech. True, some conflicts happen because we see and describe the world differently. But speech MODE #2 is more likely to lead to hurt feelings and verbal sparring matches. This happens because we often respond to people’s MODE #2 speech as if they were using MODE #1.

For example, let’s assume you’re arguing with your spouse. A few minutes in, your spouse says something that REALLY offends you. You tell them you’re done talking. You need to cool off before revisiting the issue. But, your spouse insists on settling the disagreement right then and there. Thirty seconds later, they say something else that offends you.

This time, you blurt out…

“You’re being stupid about this! Get out of my face!”

This isn’t descriptive speech. It’s a speech act. You love your spouse. You don’t honestly believe they’re “being stupid.” You just want them to leave you alone for a while. But if they treat your statement as descriptive speech, they’ll this very, very personally. Whether you “meant” it or not. This is what happens when we confuse speech acts with descriptive speech. We take things personally which weren’t even MEANT to be personal in the first place.

Once you learn to recognize this difference, your conversations will enter a whole new dimension of clarity. Personally, when I think someone is speaking in MODE #2, I don’t take anything they say literally. I just act like they’re making sounds with their mouth. These “sounds” might resemble words that I can look up in a dictionary. But they don’t actually MEAN the same thing to the person using them. So why should I take them literally?

To put this into perspective, think about how chimpanzees communicate. They use MODE #2 “speech” exclusively. They intimidate other chimpanzees by screaming or beating their chests.

But these screams and chest-beating don’t actually mean anything. They’re simply trying to influence another chimpanzee’s behavior.

Dogs are the same way. They’ll bark or growl when another animal invades their space. But they aren’t describing anything. They’re just trying to scare or intimidate the other animal. They can’t use language any other way. Humans can. But we don’t always do so.

Instead, we often say things that are unreasonable or even untrue. Simply to get a response from someone. If you treat such communications as literal descriptions of reality, you’ll have a hell of a time not taking people’s words personally. Instead, if someone calls you an asshole, or a jerk, or tells a lie about you, you’ll immediately think…

“Hey! That’s not true! I’m a nice person!”

Then, you’ll want to make all kinds of rational arguments to “prove them wrong.”  This is no wiser than trying to reason with a barking dog or a screaming chimpanzee. In most cases, the other person responds with more irrational “speech acts.” If you keep trying to reason with them, you’ll just get frustrated and the “conversation” will turn into a fight. Which might have been their goal in first place.

It’s wiser to know the difference between these two language modes, and respond accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll end up trying to reason with someone who isn’t interested in being reasonable.

#3: Choose Battles Worthy of Your Character

A telling sign that you’re still growing as a person is that you’re choosing bigger battles. People who get worked up over petty things, like the $10 late charge on their phone bill, and who spend 30 minutes fighting with a customer service rep over it, often say “it’s not the $10, it’s the principle.” This is a clear sign that they need bigger principles to fight for.

I’m not suggesting you avoid conflict. People who do so never solve anything. They just reset the timer on a bomb that’ll make a bigger explosion when the clock reaches zero again. And sometimes, being a “bigger person” means standing up to a bully. But, you should be wise about when you decide to face a conflict head on.

When orchestration students first learn to write for percussion instruments (drums, cymbals, bells etc), they use them too much and too often. After a few of big, loud climaxes, the effect becomes redundant and the music dull and one dimensional. But a mature composer, like Beethoven, uses percussion wisely. They hold off until the biggest and most climatic moment, and the effect is multitudes more powerful.

Likewise, extraordinary people are a force to be reckoned with because they don’t fire off a canon every time someone rubs them the wrong way.

You’ve no doubt known a few people like this. They rarely raise their voice or speak forcefully. But when they do, they command instant respect. They send a clear message that you’ve just crossed over a line you’d better not cross again.

This is what happens when you use forceful responses and well-crafted rational arguments wisely. You make a bigger impression. In time people learn to respect your boundaries. They see YOU as a force to be reckoned with.

But if you hit back too much, people will come to see you as weak and thin-skinned. They’ll take you less seriously when you DO fight back, and you’ll attract more bullies into your life. Use assertiveness sparingly, and you’ll make a bigger impression when you do. If you argue with fools or with hateful, angry people, people watching might not be able to tell the difference between you and the people you fight with.

In conclusion, to become an extraordinary person, you must be smart about which battles you fight, when you decide to fight them and who you fight them against. This starts with self-awareness. And with knowing the difference between descriptive speech and speech acts.

If you practice these skills, you’ll become bulletproof to other people’s drama. You’ll multiply the value of every word you speak, and everyone one you meet will see you as a great and powerful personality.

-Stay Awesome,

Leave a Reply