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What to Do When You Can’t Let Go of the Little Things

I recently had a discovery call with a client (who is also a lawyer) that ended with him wanting to work with me.  After sending him my contract, he replied in a scathing email that he no longer wanted to work with me and his reasons centered around my lack of an air-tight contract.  Now, evading a lengthy/scary/overly aggressive contract was very intentional on my part.  When entering into a coaching relationship with a client, I don’t want to stick the Dobermans on him/her just as we are beginning a relationship that centers around vulnerability and trust.  But to this man who had been focused his entire professional career on legal excellence, it was highly offensive and led him to call me “unprofessional.”

Logically, I understood his perspective.  When you’re educated exclusively on how to evaluate the color red, you overlook all of other colors and can’t see anything but red.  But emotionally, having a prospective client call me unprofessional hit me hard. Because I have worked so hard to become an excellent coach.  And every time I open myself up to a potential client, there is a small but meaningful connection that is formed.  But we had such a limited interaction, I asked myself: why am I letting this get to me? Normally, I could easily dismiss this comment and move on.  What was different now?

This led me to reflect on all the other times in my career that events that should have been easily brushed off but lingered in my psyche for way too long.  And I realized, this happens all the time for my clients. This blog explores why and what to do when it happens to you.

Why do we let the opinions of people who have little or no role in our life impact us so greatly?

As I broke this down, a few things occurred to me:

  1. I was really tied to the outcome- I’m about to pass a huge financial milestone in my business and this sale got me really, really close to a goal I’ve had in sight since I started my business.  

The more tied we are to the outcome that this individual impacts, the harder their feedback will hit us

For example, if you have a boss or top customer who offers negative feedback, this is going to weigh more heavily on you than the average Joe or Jane because their opinion can directly impact your work outcomes.

2. The nature of the comment directly criticized one of my top priorities

My family, my career, and my friends are the top priorities in my life.  And it’s important that I show up in a helpful and productive way in all three areas.  So, him calling me unprofessional violated one of my primary scorecards in life.  

The closer to our core priorities the comment hits, the harder will be to ignore it

What are your top priorities?  How have they been unfairly criticized by someone who didn’t have visibility to all the pertinent pieces?

3. My energy fuel tank is lower than usual because I’m well into my second trimester of pregnancy.  This naturally impacts my resilience and lowers my emotional bandwidth.

The lower your energy/the higher your stress, the easier it is for emotion to overtake logic

Having a condition that slows you down or negatively impacts your normal routine can be stressful.  Not getting enough sleep can also have a significant impact.  Not building in time for self-care/recovery… you get the idea.  All of these extenuating circumstances lowers our ability to fend off hurtful remarks that normally wouldn’t phase us.

Now that we’ve broken down the reasons why small, seemingly insignificant remarks can wreak more havoc than they should, let’s move onto solutions.  

How to Prevent Hurtful Comments from Defining You

  1. Immediately, in the moment, step away from the hurtful stimuli and give yourself time to move through the emotions before responding

Whatever you do, don’t let this stimuli provoke you into an action that doesn’t align with your values. If I had immediately responded to his remark, I would have had some choice words to share which likely, would have perpetuated a string of even worse outcomes- bad reviews online, verbal criticism shared with his network, maybe even some legal recourse.  The thing I’ve learned from years of experience is to ensure that your emotions don’t overtake your response.  Nothing good every comes from it and you end up beating yourself up on top of managing the sting from the criticism.  Trust me, don’t do it.  Give yourself time to breathe and reflect first.

2. After you’ve had time, logic through the variables that may not be obvious

In my case, this client came to me because he had been rejected after behavioral interviews with two companies.  He was in a space of lowered confidence and questioning his worth.  When some people get into this space, they lash out at others as a way of feeling more in control. 

Bottom line: this wasn’t about me, it was about him.  

Nine times out of ten, you will often bear the grunt force of someone’s anger because they are scared/nervous/feeling inadequate.  With that in mind, what might your offender be going through that would influence how they reacted? How can you take this less personally knowing that if they were in a different mental space, they likely wouldn’t have said this?

This comment does not determine your self-worth, only you can do that.

3. Question the core assumptions that you are forming

In my case, a piece of me wanted to retreat, hire a lawyer and make my contract perfect before I continued to seek clients.  I was starting to take his feedback as gospel.  But that wasn’t the answer.  I have two years worth of numerous clients who had gladly agreed to my contract and our work together, defined by the terms of the contract, has been transformative. So the answer wasn’t to retreat. However, was there something I could learn from this?  Yes- it did feel like the right time to focus on the legal side of my business.  What learnings can you take from your most recent negative encounter?

After reflecting, what I’ve concluded is that this experience reminded me that only I can define how I feel about myself and my work. It also highlighted an opportunity to strengthen my business by tightening up the attention to the legal side of my operation.  In the end, I thank him for perpetuating this valuable learning that will help me continue to grow and I truly hope he finds a more constructive way to manage his stress in the future.

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