How Easily Do You Take Offense? Seven Strategies for Maintaining Your Cool

Jane was sitting in an online meeting where current deadlines were being discussed among team members. At the close of the meeting, Jane’s manager asked if anyone had any other concerns that needed to be addressed. Jane broke the team’s silence by stating that the IT group had committed to solve a software problem for one of her clients by July 1st. Although she had called them numerous times, Jane expressed her concern for her client given that it was now July 25th and that the IT group had still not addressed her client’s problem. Jane’s manager immediately shot back angrily, “Jane you are entirely too emotional!” Jane asked, “What do you mean by that?” The manager responded by stating, “This is not the time and place to discuss this!” End of conversation. Meeting over.

After the meeting, Jane became upset because her manager would not answer her calls. Jane emailed and asked for feedback about what it meant to be “too emotional.” Her manager responded via email by stating that Jane was too direct and blunt in the information that she shared in the meeting. No matter how many times Jane reached out, her manager would not engage other than through email. The manager’s behavior infuriated Jane who felt like her manager’s response was less than respectful or professional. Additionally, she was being teased by her peers as being “too emotional”.

As Jane’s manager was over the IT team that wasn’t delivering, we can probably assume that she was offended by Jane’s feedback in front of the group. Jane was offended because she felt like she was treated unfairly during and after the meeting. Someone wise once said that, “Offense is usually taken and not given.” This is usually how offense shows up. Someone does or says something we judge to be unwarranted or unfair, we become emotional, and then we shift the blame for the current situation. to someone or something else.  

If you are the type of person who regularly takes offense to the actions of others, here are some suggestions for staying more rational in the moment rather than losing your cool.

Make a choice. Recognizing a tendency to becoming emotional is generally identifiable. If you know that you have a tendency to become upset in certain situations, decide beforehand that you will not let your emotions drive your behavior. You can make a choice to be offended or not. 

Detach and assess. If you find yourself reacting negatively, take a step outside of yourself and see your behavior objectively. Then ask yourself, “Why am I becoming emotional?” or finish the sentence, “I am upset because… “ as many times as you can. Your subconscious holds the answers to these questions. Taking the time to identify the answers will help you see how you are interpreting the situation and the particular mindset that is causing your behavior.

Identify values. Part of the reason we take offense is because we project our values onto others. For example, let’s say that Jane’s manager has a value for doing great work. Jane’s feedback about the failure of the IT team to meet a client commitment reflected poorly on the manager’s leadership, so she took offense to the feedback. Jane on the other hand may have a value for keeping her commitments. So when the IT team didn’t meet their commitment to her client, she took offense. Jane also took offense because she was treated disrespectfully. Part of the reason we take offense is because we assume that others have the same values that we do. When others violate our values, we become defensive.

Check rationality. Everyone is rational from their own point of view. The challenge then becomes for us to understand another’s rational point of view. Simply asking yourself, “What would cause them to say or do that?” forces you to consider a view point other than your own. Doing this mental exercise will allow you to maintain your rationality as you contemplate the answer to the question. At some point you may recognize that you can’t rationally answer the above question, so you will have to ask them to help you understand their behavior. Seeking answers for behavior you don’t understand will help you get outside yourself and learn something.

Forgive them. Walking around holding grudges and being offended will canker your soul and infect your interactions with others. You must admit that your negative emotions and thoughts are not worth the burden. It is not easy to forgive others particularly when your thoughts and feelings are justified given their poor choice of behavior. Nevertheless, people will come to judge you in a negative light if you can’t learn to forgive another.

Stay on track. People generally have goals and objectives that they are trying to achieve. Let your goals guide your behavior so that you stay on a path of growth and development rather than allowing yourself to be diverted by the behavior of others. We usually achieve what we intend to accomplish. Let your behavior reflect a clear, deliberate intent that you have identified.

Visualize your response. If you frequently take offense, identify when and with whom that occurs. Take some time to visualize yourself responding differently to that situation. If you prepare mentally before a situation arises, you will increase the likelihood of responding in a more positive way and decrease the potential for a negative outcome.

Being offended seems to be part of being human. However, continuing to take offense because of the behavior of others really is a matter of personal choice. Making a deliberate, conscious choice to maintain your rationality in the heat of the moment is the key to becoming more emotionally intelligent. Learning how to control your feelings allows you to deal with others more effectively while achieving the results you really want.

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What people are saying

Ron Thurman | August 5, 2016 | REPLY
John - I am deeply offended by your article! No, seriously, you make some really good points. It is so easy to become offended when someone else appears to be responding inappropriately or irrationally. Your comments are very helpful in being able to cope with such situations. Keep it up. Ron
John Stoker | August 6, 2016 | REPLY
Thanks Ron. I am amazed at how often we use these phrases and then wonder why a conversation doesn't start off well. J
pomegranate4737 | August 5, 2016 | REPLY
Thank you! Very helpful! I wonder how to incorporate boundaries into this discussion?
John Stoker | August 6, 2016 | REPLY
Can you give me an example of what you mean by boundaries? I would be happy to respond. J
pomegranate4737 | August 7, 2016 | REPLY
I like the approach of this article on personal accountability. What I struggle to understand (and generally in life) is at what point do you decide you just can't work with a certain person and what does that look like?
John Stoker | August 18, 2016 | REPLY
I think you answered the question for yourself. If you are so frustrated that you can't work with a person then isn't that the answer? At that point I think you have three choices: 1) talk out the situation and see if it can be improved, 2) put up with the situation and be miserable, or 3) remove yourself from the situation. Either you choose to do something about the situation or not. Seems pretty simple. j
Robin Wardle | August 18, 2016 | REPLY
As a person who has been accused of having "a short fuse," I try to remember this quote by Brigham Young. “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.” Great article, John. I need to read it a few more times.
John Stoker | August 18, 2016 | REPLY
To have emotions is to be human. To let our emotions have us is to be less than effective. Understanding the source of our emotions and what lights our "fuse" is the first step to gaining more control over ourselves and our conversations. Thanks Robin. J