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December 28, 2015

So you have heard this many times before, when reporting about someone’s hostile interactions with you, you are advised not to take it personally.  It’s good advice but how do you get there? As social, thinking and feeling beings, when we interact with others we come to seek feedback that mirrors our desires in the conversation. This leads to frustration when in return for our engagement in a conversation we receive hostile words and gestures.

The best way to understand this phenomenon is to visit this site and have a conversation with the Artificial Intelligence software called A.L.I.C.E. Having a conversation with the free to use A.I can be very frustrating if you came to the site with big expectations. By the third line into the conversation the A.I goes completely off topic, and then doesn’t return back to the conversation at hand. When you try to steer the conversation on a particular direction, the A.I responds to you as if this were the topic you both agreed to discuss. At times, the A.I might respond to you with provocative words like, “Whoa!” or insulting statements like, “You are an idiot.”

A similar phenomenon takes place with hostile people, you are engaged in what you determined initially to be a friendly conversation, or perhaps a routine conversation, and you are greeted with hostility. Your initially response might be confusion and anger, at which point you seek retaliation. Regardless of how you choose to respond, keep in mind that your intentions going into that conversation were never the same as the hostile person’s intentions. You intended for a peaceful conversation, and they intended for a hostile confrontation. It really isn’t personal, they were looking to have a hostile encounter with someone, anyone. So then it becomes irrational for you to take hostility personally. In some cases, the hostile person may insist that their hostility towards you is based on something about you that they find offensive. Even if the hostile person believes this, the truth is they were seeking out a hostile confrontation. It was never about you, you just happened to be someone who became available as a target. Furthermore, what keeps the hostile encounter going is your continued input. You working very hard to have a peaceful conversation, while the other person puts in half the effort into provoking you.

Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way in not taking things personal. The solution is simple, you disengage. If you are dealing with someone you have to deal with, you use verbal judo to throw them mentally off balance, state your boundaries and then disengage.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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