Why You Can Chill Out About Other People

A few weeks ago I was weaving my way through an art exhibit. It was set up so that you went through it in a single file line. Sounds simple, right? Except people don’t view art in the exact same way. Some could spend a whole day doing it.


asleep at museum

…not so much.

This particular exhibit entranced me. My pace slowed, and soon there was a widening gap between the person in front of me and me. The woman behind me heaved a heavy sigh.

Which is when my mind went to work:

“Oh no…she’s irritated because I’m going too slowly! I guess I’d be upset too if I weren’t into this so much. Am I being rude? Is she being rude? Is she moving right up to my butt? Should I speed up?…”

On and on those thoughts went, continuing until the end of the exhibit…the enchantment gone.

Shortly afterwards I was on another line, this time for my coffee fix. The same woman wound up right behind me…and as I paid for my coffee and took a sip, she emitted the same, heavy sigh.

The coffee turned bitter in my mouth. I couldn’t take the tension. I turned around and said, “I just want to apologize if I took too long in the exhibit. I know you were right behind me and I felt like I might have been lagging.”

She squinted at me and tilted her head. “You were in front of me? I didn’t even notice. I was just enjoying the art.”

All too often – every single day for many of us – we do this.

  • A co-worker makes a funny face while passing us in the hallway and we think it’s directed at us. “What did I ever do to him?” we ask ourselves.
  • A friend fails to respond to our email as quickly as we think she should and we’re offended. “Why is she being so disrespectful?” we ask ourselves.
  • Our boss walks briskly out of the lunchroom when we enter it. “Uh oh, am I in trouble?” we ask ourselves.

We go through our day reading people’s actions, facial expressions and emails and we make a whole lot of assumptions about the message they really want to give us.

Somehow their actions go from what they are doing…to what they are doing to us.

  • Sometimes we take it personally and feel offended.
  • Sometimes we feel guilty and feel embarrassed.
  • Sometimes we feel like a victim…which, sometimes, we like.

Sometimes we just get lost in the web of what it all might mean, but we know it means something.

But chances are it doesn’t.

Really…it’s just not about you.

I ask you this.

How often are you lost in thought when you’re in a meeting? How quickly do you work through your daily tasks without noticing those around you?

Can you remember every text you wrote today or every expression you made today? How about the person you may have coughed on without realizing it…or the guy you cut off in traffic, never realizing he was behind you for miles making this face…

georgeMuch of what we do in a given day has nothing to do with those around us and everything to do with what we’re doing or thinking about.

Yet when those around us do the same thing we assume it has not just something to do with us – but everything to do with us.

It doesn’t.

In fact, even when something is directed right at you – a tone or an evil look or a nasty comment – that’s often about the other person dealing with a bad day and taking it out on you. That doesn’t make it okay, of course. But it does mean you don’t have to take it quite so personally.

But Deirdre, you might be thinking, sometimes it really does have to do with what they think about meI’ve known plenty of people who got their message across with these kinds of actions. And, to be honest, I’ve done the same thing at times.

And my response is…of course. Sometimes others are indeed getting their message across to you with subtext, non-verbals and that perfectly crafted facial expression.

angry baby3

But it’s not nearly as often as you think.

So stop being offended. And stop getting uncomfortable. And stop feeling guilty. And stop playing the victim.

And next time you find yourself wondering if someone else’s action has something to do with you…for heaven’s sake, go ahead and ask them!

You’ll get the answer you need to move on. And maybe that coffee won’t turn quite so bitter next time around.

This week…

Remember that other people’s words and actions are almost always not about you. Think of how often you might come off as giving signals when you’re not. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Then move on to what’s really important in your day.

Now, go do good…and do it well.



11 responses to “Why You Can Chill Out About Other People”

  1. Josee Avatar

    I have to say that this could have come a better time for… I am a new prinicpal, new to he school and the school board… so at the moment I am trying to find my place and I feel EXACTLY like you said… Thank you I am going take a step back and try to not take eveything so personally… easier said than done… 🙂

    1. Josee Avatar

      I mean coould not have come at a better time… WEDNESDAY!!! haha

  2. Michele Schina Avatar
    Michele Schina

    Deidre – this was a great post. And, it came at such the right time. As I deal with my own changes to grow and develop as a leader, this has come up a lot for me. I realize it has to do with my own insecurities. But, I was angry all morning, because I haven’t received responses to some emails (making things up, etc.) and then this post came. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.I am ready to follow-up now!

  3. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
    Deirdre Maloney

    Funny how a message comes just when we need it – and I’m just glad that was the case with a few of you! And trust me, I haven’t mastered this one at all…though at least I’m becoming aware of just how much I do it. 🙂

  4. Kate Haygood Avatar

    Really needed this today… Was wondering about this very thing this morning.. Thanks Deirdre! As always you are full of wisdom and I love that you share it! Thank you.

  5. Leanne Avatar

    Wonderful food for thought and ACTION. We all appreciate it when grace is extended to us – good to remember I need to do the same even in the little things. Most important, as you said, it makes all the difference to how the coffee tastes for US.
    Thank you for sharing your insight and advice.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      I love your use of the word “grace”, Leanne. I think that’s right on…when we realize it’s not about us, we can take a step back, take a breath, and show who we really are…

  6. Patty Avatar

    Deirdre, perfect timing. I have been in the midst of making an assessment on someone’s behavior to me – reading into it all sorts of things. How true – it’s not all about me. I don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life. I need to stop projecting my thoughts and feelings into the other person. Thank you for such a wonderful reminder. you have such a unique way of putting it.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      It’s so true – you just never know where someone else is coming from, or what they themselves are going through at the exact moment they make that funny face. The more we can give people the benefit of the doubt the better we’ll feel about them…and our day!

  7. Lauren Avatar


    I was just thinking of you and your wise blog posts in yoga last night! I know Im supposed to clear my mind and focus on my breathing in yoga but I was working thru some stuff! If I had a blog like yours I would entitle my post – things learned from being bendy at yoga, and other things learned from watching greys anatomy- a little wordy but then again so am I.

    I was feeling pretty down about myself as the never ending job search continues and guilty about taking time out of a busy day to do yoga but I forced myself and I went, and I learned to accept where I am and be OK with that. Its ok to only be able to do part of a pose just like its ok to be struggling to find my way in the world. Another biggie that I always reminded of while in yoga is NOT to COMPARE myself with others. Everyone’s body is different. In yoga I do what I can I bend in the way that is right for ME, to touch on your post about focusing about what people are thinking about you- In yoga I am totally focused on myself, I dont have time to compare my form with those next to me, because it doesnt matter what they are doing- BUT it is soo hard for me to do that in real life- in regards to my career. WHY is that?

    My yoga teacher was spouting all kinds of new agey stuff but one thing she said was that our potential is limitless and that really stuck with me!

    From time to time when not doing yoga I can be found catching up on TV shows, and this time I was watching greys anatomy and the drs are trying something radical and new and its hard and one of the characters said success is failing over and over again and you just keep on trying until you get it right. I liked that because it give you permission to fail, and I for one am very hard on myself.

    Well the reason I mention all of this is because in my soul searching and downward dogs I thought I should share this with Deirdre, this sounds like something she would say!

    Did I mention that my partner is a doctor? I constantly play the comparing game, but really I just need to compare my todays self with yesterdays and keep moving forward.

    One final note- today I attempted to get down and dirty literally and unclog my dishwasher- I was very determined and went to the hardware store 3 times to troubleshoot bc Id never done it before- all the while happy to tackle a challenge. BUT when my camera wasnt connecting to my computer and there were some technical issues there and Im a photographer I almost cried because I thought i SHOULD know how to fix this and I couldnt. In the end i realized my flawed thinking and getting my butt to the camera store, turns out I really did need someones help, and I felt better afterwards even after learning my camera might not be worth fixing!

    Food for though, Have a fantastic night!!!!


  8. Rancy Breece Avatar
    Rancy Breece

    Deirdre – Wait! Were you talking about me in this post? It is, right? I just know it is!! Was it something I wrote in response to another post? Gosh, if that’s the case, I’m really, really sorry.