The Art of Being Unoffendable
Isn’t it easy to write some people off? Really, some people come across with a different attitude, behavior, or perspective than you are used to. Or they are just not living up to your expectations. Sometimes it is easy to just ignore and let it pass. Other times it seems to consume you and you end up “labeling” that person. In fact, it often leads to an outcome of being “offended” by that person.
I actually had an implied labeling system of a 1 or a 0 that I was using when interacting with people. If they met my expectations, behaved the way I wanted them to behave, worked the way I wanted them to work, they were a “1” in my book. If they didn’t, then they were a “0” and I often moved on.
Out of this, I asked myself, what would it take to live a life of being “unoffendable”—at work, at home, anywhere we are in close relationships?
Unoffendable. That is an interesting word. (Not even sure it is a real word.) Here’s how I would define it: Not letting the difference in someone’s personality or social style irritate or annoy me. Allowing for people to have different habits, work styles, and preferences than my own. Not being resentful toward someone because they use the wrong email signature or phrase emails differently than you. Basically, it would be limiting what we are offended by to unethical behaviors, not personality differences.
My journey to becoming unoffendable.
Lately I have been wondering why it can be so easy for me to be offended. It happens with just about anyone: friends, my spouse, children, coworkers. I can feel this level of irritation or frustration with them rising up in my mind.
Even this aspect of frustration has puzzled me. Why do I get so frustrated with certain issues or people? I came to define frustration as this: when my expectations of someone are higher than reality. You have certain expectations of your people, your mentors, or your family. When those expectations are not realized, it is easy to get frustrated. And sometimes it can irritate and offend you. We let these feelings rise up and overwhelm us. And then we sometimes react in ways we are not proud of. It is an ugly cycle.
A colleague at work saw how I was often offended by a few colleagues and the implied labeling system of a 1 or a 0. He very graciously coached me to step back and examine my labeling system. Through this process, I came to realize that others have goals, dreams, wants, needs, and desires just like I have. They have a family history. They have a life story that causes them to be unique. And their story can be very different from mine.
I realized that others who are different than me don’t deserve to be labeled with a 0 just because they are different. Maybe they are somewhere between a 0 and 1, and I am catching them at their low point. And who is a total 1, anyway? We all have a broken part of our story, and we all behave in ways that might be perceived as shortcomings.
Then I started thinking about my role in finding someone between a 0 and a 1. Labeling them as 0 (or close to it) is not very helpful. And in fact, I may be totally missing what is going on—the deeper story. I decided to take some time and dig deeper into someone’s story when I was tempted to label them as a 0 (and consequently be offended by their falling short of my expectations). What I discovered is that hearing their story gave me such a better perspective on their own wants, needs, and desires. Hearing their story allowed me to see them in such a better way. And it allowed me to see how I could help them on the journey from 0 to 1. You see, we are all on this journey from being a 0 to a 1. Some of us may be further along than others, but that really isn’t the point. The point is how do we encourage one another in our journey and with our story?
Choosing to be unoffendable.
Being unoffendable is an intentional choice, and one we have to make each day. My mom actually showed me what it looks like to live a life of being unoffendable. She never made assumptions about people, and she always looked for the deeper story. Because she was not easily offended by the shortcomings of others, she was able to love generously.
What would it look like in your organization to live a life of being unoffendable? It would radically change the dynamics of your relationships…for a better outcome. You would find yourself more generous in giving praise instead of a tendency to look for shortcomings. You would be seen as a better leader with an attitude of trust and a cheerleader of the people on your team. Your colleagues, and those who report to you, would likely be more transparent with you, knowing that you lean in the direction of not being offended by the differences that often unnecessarily separate us.
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