It’s not you, it’s them

by | Mar 12, 2021 | Leadership

A manager who finds fault in everything you do. A team member who’s abrupt and rude. A colleague who talks over you in meetings.

These are just some of the challenges my clients bring to coaching sessions. Perhaps you can add more to the list. Just the other day, I was talking to a highly-rated Director who was feeling her confidence being eroded by a line manager. He claimed to value her, yet was constantly undermining her decisions and criticising her work.

What stands out here is that these clients take these unpleasant behaviours personally.

They allow these behaviours to affect their confidence and to make them feel that there’s something wrong with them.

You might have come across a book called “I’m Ok, You’re Ok by Thomas Harris, a guide to a methodology called Transactional Analysis (TA), which talks about 4 “life positions” we take. The most common position is, “I’m not OK, you’re OK” the TA theory being that, as children, we see that adults are large, strong and competent and that we are small, weak and often make mistakes, so we conclude “I’m not OK, you’re OK”. 

If you look at this from the perspective of neuroscience, we have evolved to need safety, connection and belonging. In the modern-day workplace, this means we seek approval and validation from authority figures to make sure we aren’t rejected, rejection being a pretty dangerous option for our ancestors – you wouldn’t have wanted to be wandering around on your own with wild animals lurking in the bushes.

It’s therefore unsurprising that we take critique – a sign that we’re “not ok” – seriously.

There’s a quote I keep on my whiteboard because I share it so often with my clients :

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour towards you as a reflection of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.”

It’s from a spiritual teacher called Yogi Bhajan. It may seem very “zen”, but it encapsulates the essence of the issue we face. Think about when you behave in a way you’re not proud of – for example, being critical, or impatient, or abrupt. What drives that behaviour? Is it really about other people, or is it driven by your own fears and insecurities?

Going back to a situation in your own life and work where you’re finding another person’s behaviour challenging, what might be driving that behaviour?

Is it really about you, or does it belong to them?

What do you want to do about that?  Is there a conversation to be had, or do you just want to change the way you respond – or don’t respond – to their behaviour?

What do you think? Drop me a line at

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps new Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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