I need to maintain cordial work relationships with people who may talk harshly. They're not necessarily rude. They just speak their mind and expect that I can handle things professionally - fair enough. But I do easily get stressed out or upset over what someone (especially a superior) says to me.

The prevailing advice is "don't take things personally". But when I try to use this mentality, it quickly shows in my outward demeanour. I appear arrogant or aloof. Basically, I try to think "what you're saying doesn't affect me emotionally" but my brain interprets it as "I don't give a [expletive] what you're saying". That is obviously harmful to my image.

If I feign interest, I start to believe the lie and actually become interested - hence feeling hurt when they say something grating.

How can I appear interested and pay attention to what someone is saying while keeping a healthy emotional distance throughout?

  • The meaning of "aloof" is "cool and distant". In other words, maintaining emotional distance just like you intend. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 22:08
  • I don't have time right now to make this into an answer, but I read this blog post recently which I think might be helpful - it's somewhat the flip side of what you are saying, but you might find ways to really identify with what is happening.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 23:12

3 Answers 3


"Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth of merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you." - Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History

When we take things personally we are giving the other person more power over us than they deserve or should ever be allowed to have.

Here are some tips that might help you:

1) Give the benefit of doubt. Don't assume someone is directing some form of ag-gression towards you, when they could be just joking or having a bad day. Your in-stinct may be to react emotionally, but pause for a second.

2) Refocus your attention. When you take things personally, you shift your attention from what someone said or did to how you feel. Unless you move on, you'll ruminate on the negative feeling and amplify it.

3) Remind yourself that you don't need anyone's approval. If someone isn't happy with you, it doesn't mean you've done something wrong.

4) Speak up. Let the person know how you feel. They might not realize how hurtful or aggressive they seem and how it is affecting you.

5) Stop taking compliments personally, too. If you base your self-worth on how often people compliment you, then you're allowing others to decide how you feel about yourself.

(Source of above points)

  • I would like to add the following: Before you say what you want to say. Count to 5. If you still want to say it. Wait another 3. If you still want to say it. Say it.
    – Bluebird
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 19:30
  • Re: #5, there is a famous quote: "Be independent of the good opinions of others." (Applies to bad opinions also.) Decide based on the merit of something, not the emotional weight for the other person or you. The way to do this is discover what is making you fearful. Potential loss of job? Potential bad relationship? etc... Until you find the trigger, it will not get better.
    – user37746
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 16:09

At my most recent employer, I have experienced quite a few instances in which my coworkers gave me feedback for which I disagree or expressed sentiments about the way I work in a blunt, brusque manner. My work was in IT audit, and I when have to discuss with coworkers about an observation as part of peer QA / review, I tend to be straight, and not mince words, in exact the same manner as your coworkers. Being fluffy with words or sugar coating things is not who I am.

What I have found works for me is the following:

  • Feedback / criticism is valid

In this instance, I first remain calm. Rushing to respond in a defensive manner is not fruitful and will hurt my reputation. Next I try to validate what they are saying:

"Thank you for the feedback, what you said is helpful and I will try to incorporate your suggestions into my work going forward."

  • Feedback is invalid, not helpful or irrelevant

In this instance, I would still them thank them for their feedback. However, I would point out why their suggestion is not applicable, such as

This internal control deviance might not seem material but still needs to be documented, because not doing so risks us an unfavorable audit finding.

You can still be diligent about your work, but view the feedback as an opportunity to improve your work, rather than a personal attack about how you work.

Dont discount harsh, but what may be true criticism, simply because the manner is harsh. A thicker skin cant hurt. Also, in my opinion, the expectations of your colleagues are Not unreasonable at least in my culture of the USA. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. However, having to walk on eggshells does interfere with work

Different people have different styles to working that works for them and reasonable colleagues should be able to understand. Separating the messenger from message itself is an important skill, particularly when the message may be distasteful, as I surmise in this instance.

  • +1, excellent advice. I'd give another +1 for "Separating the messenger from message is an important skill" if I could.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 23:20

Focus on listening to what the person is saying and respond appropriately taking into consideration they may be in an emotional state. This isn't the time to ignore them, correct them or take offense. Take some time to think about the interaction. If there is any valid feedback, try to work on that.

If you feel the person was getting too personal and was making you uncomfortable, schedule some time much after they've calmed down to discuss. Determine if they have a problem with you personally or were they just agitated because something went wrong. Make a request for them to just ask you if they need something and you'll work on it to the best of your ability. Show you care and are concerned about doing your job well, but that you prefer to not be yelled at. This can be difficult with a supervisor. Focus on making sure they're not under the impression that you're under performing.

  • Right. If you are pro-active, then it leaves less room for worry.
    – user37746
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 16:11

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