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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

What You Think of Me is None of My Business

Published July 25, 2010 4:54 PM by Glen McDaniel

Kids are disproportionately concerned with acceptance by their peers. Increasingly these days we are seeing that a negative word or slight might well result in anything from tears to violence to attempted suicide.  We are all familiar with the oft-repeated axiom "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But at the first sting of a hurtful word, that logic goes out the window.

Many times we estimate our worth based on how we are perceived and rated by colleagues and supervisors. Sure, each job has behavioral expectations and organizations have cultural norms. But one must be careful to separate the behavior from the individual; the criticism from the individual's value.

My grandfather, Old Mac, was fond of saying "What others think of you and say about you, is their business; don't make it yours." I have always valued his common-sense wisdom and for a long time I believed he coined that phrase. Recently, however, I have heard several variations on that theme. Knowing I heard it first from grandpa causes that logic to still resonate very powerfully with me.

Criticism by a superior can be more difficult to just brush off. Whenever possible get the person to couch such criticism in terms of behavior or at least to give concrete examples of past performance which prompted the critique. Novice managers may mention subjective words like "attitude" and "tendency" and use terms such as "appears to."  Over generalizations like "always" and "never" are also indicators of the need for clarification.

So, as much as possible ignore the idle chat of colleagues. Demand re-phrasing of the comments of those who matter (e.g. a supervisor) into measurable behaviors with examples. Make a plan to address legitimate lapses. But do not take vague, general criticisms sitting down. More importantly, do not internalize them.

Once you have done that, then realize that your worth does not derive from someone's perception of you. Just because someone characterizes you in a negative light, doesn't mean you have to dignify it with an answer; and certainly not a similar response. Another Old Mac-ism "It's not what folks call you; it's what you answer to that matters."

As challenging as it might be, you can develop the habit of thinking-and acting- as if what someone thinks of you (or says about you) is none of your business. It is really their stuff; not yours.



Thanks for your comments. I think that people do take clues from us about what to call us, how to treat us and so on. They look at the way we refer to ourselves "I work in the lab" versus "I am a CLS/MT" for example. We often talk about "lab work is hard" as if it's manual labor or an assembly line. That sends the wrong message.

Others also make mental notes of how we dress, how we speak,  how much we participate in hospital-wide activities and certainly what we tolerate. If we corrected someone each time they suggested we were trained on the job or we mindlessly just push buttons and report numbers that spill out of instruments, we would get more respect.

While we cannot obsess about what others say about us, we shouldnt sit idly by each time they denigrate us or our profession.

Point well taken, Vincente. I hope I have provided some suggestions of what to do.

Jonas: that is a dilemma and having a witness is one tactic. As I suggest in the main post, respesctfully asking for specific examples of behaviors (what, when, what policy is violated) is another very successful way of coping. You can then respond and write your own rebuttal (if needed) and have that in your employee file.

If the manager is stuck in generalities or is unwilling to provide accurate details, then document that as well. Simply doing this sometimes makes teh manager think twice. Even if they dont, you will at least have a balance in  documentation if (and when) you nee dit.

Glen McDaniel August 13, 2010 7:34 PM

It is hard when your supervisor doesnt like you and tries to blame everything on you.  With this one supervisor, I had to have a witness for everything otherwise she would document lies about me. She would also rate me low for my evaluation. When your supervisor carries all the power it is hard not to be concerned.

Jonas T. July 29, 2010 5:57 PM
Atlanta GA

Wow. That is so true. It is very hard not to take things personally. But the best thing we can do for ourselves is to separate fact from fiction. if someone points out a rule or policy that you are breaking then that's OK. But most times people complain about YOU as a person and it is difficult not to take it personally. It is even harder when it's people ypu are working with or your boss.  If we learn that one thing, Glen we would be much better off.

Vincente O. MLS July 27, 2010 10:15 PM
new York NY


I think you've put it very well:  self-worth does not derive from another's perception.

My father used to say, "People are your mirror, they tell you who you are."  He was right, I think, in the sense that people reflect your choice of what they see, but they tell you who they think you are.  Neither may be true.

That can be a hard sell.  It's too easy to be trapped in snares of opinions, criticisms, and comparisons.  It's just as easy to see it all differently.

Scott Warner July 27, 2010 7:29 AM

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