“It’s Not Personal”

That odd little pharse. . .”It’s not personal”

Of course it’s personal. If it weren’t personal, you wouldn’t need to say it, would you? Everything you say is personal if you are saying it to another person. And as you are a person (I’m just guessing here) it is your

Mr. Yuk

own personal remark. Step up and take some responsibility for what you say. Think before you speak. That’s hard, isnt’ it? So much easier to say, “Nothing personal, but. . .” I’m seeing those three words a lot more lately. And I’m not liking them much.

When I first moved to the South, I first heard, “Bless your heart.”

“How nice!” I thought, getting my heart blessed. Then I began to listen to the whole phrase. “You’ve put on some weight, haven’t you? Bless your heart!” “Your husband is looking for a job? Bless his heart!” Slowly I got it–Bless Your Heart was code for You Loser, You. Oh. Not so nice.

Ya can't be mad!

A few years down the road we started using punctuation as directions for what we wanted people to feel.  They were replaced with little smiley faces of infinite variety. The first one—  ; ) –winked at us so we wouldn’t be angry. People began to use it to tell us how we were supposed to feel after reading their words, sort of “You can’t be angry at that sentence, I’m winking at you.”

The emoticons were being used because writing the thing we wanted to say in a tactful way was too hard. A lot of snark was excused by people raising their eyebrows and insisting, “Didn’t you see the winking smiley face? I was being funny. It’s you who don’t have a sense of humor.”  Sense of humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. We were back to a visual version of “Bless your heart,”–passive aggressiveness hidden behind smiley-face cheer.

Smiley faces aren’t appropriate for business situations, so it’s back to spelling it out. “It’s not personal, but this writing is a piece of drek.” Well, of course it’s personal. Ask the person who wrote the drek if it’s personal. Or the one I heard the other night, “Nothing personal, but should you be drinking a beer?” (Not directed at me, at a woman who could have been considered pregnant-looking. I should not have to explain further.) How is that not personal?

We all want to look non-judgmental while still having the fun of snarking. We want it both ways–virtuous and the thrill of being mean.  It doesn’t work that way. Even if the internet makes it ever-so-much easier to be anonymous. Passive aggressive is as passive aggressive does. Own up to your emotions and opinions. They are yours. Say what you mean, or keep your mouth shut. But emoticons and “It’s not personal” do not free you of accountability.

To avoid confusion, let’s be clear about using “It’s not personal.”
—Back to basics: If you wouldn’t want the phrase that contains INP said to you, don’t say it to the other person.
—If it’s about anything the other person said, did, drew, wrote,  or created in any way, don’t use INP.
—If you can’t replace  INP with “In my opinion. . .” don’t use INP.
—If you want to point to a flaw, mistake, or gaffe, make sure you speak to the person in private. Ask for permission to point out the flaw. Have a suggestion ready for how you would fix it, but don’t offer it till you are asked.

“It’s not personal” almost always warns the listener about the slap that’s coming. Put it down. You have better phrases then that.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach who is also a business communication trainer.