Nothing Personal?

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

Of course it’s personal. If it weren’t personal, no one would waste breath doing Godfather_09the setup. Distancing. Pushing responsibility back on the listener. Acting as if what is about to be said is somehow not coming out of the speaker’s mouth and not causing a painful reaction in the person being talked to. Because, honestly, have those words ever been spoken in praise or admiration?

We all take our work personally. We all put emotion and effort into what we do to make a living. We want to take pride in our work. When someone starts a sentence with “Nothing personal, but . . .” it is a shortcut to being OK with saying “I am about to attack you and I expect you to sit and take it, and oh, you may not cry or fight back.”

We pretend that business is objective and logical, but it is not. Someone can understand your plan, but unless they have emotional buy-in, they won’t take action. The very expectations of business–taking favorable action–is emotional.

It’s so much easier to hide behind the thin veneer of logic and objectivity.  We want it both ways–deliver a gut punch and look objective.  It doesn’t work that way. Passive aggressive is as passive aggressive does. Own up to your emotions and opinions. They are yours. But “It’s not personal” does not free you of the responsibility of hurting someone else.

seth-godin-personallyTo 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.
—Replace  INP with “In my opinion. . .” and stand behind your words.
—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 hears a lot about what goes on in people’s lives. It’s not always good or helpful.

11 thoughts on “Nothing Personal?

  1. Hi Quinn,

    I loved this post–it hit very close to home. What you said is so true–when someone says those words, you do prepare yourself to be slapped down. It’s a twin with “No offense.” when you know you are about to be offended or insulted. They’re telling you that they are going to say something you will not like, but, hey, don’t take it personally. I love how you put it–when they say “Nothing personal” it’s totally personal! My ex-husband’s “Whatever,” said in a bored tone, and with a negligent shrug and arms across his chest, is what helped end our marriage.

    Thanks, Quinn, for sharing your very pointed–and true–insights. It delights me to know that I am not alone in how I feel about a lot of things to do with other people. These kinds of remarks, statements, whatever you want to call them, are the very antithesis of kindness.


  2. “In my opinion”….Do you watch “The Good Wife? There is a judge who makes every lawyer say that after everything they say in their arguments! That part cracked me up! I do agree with you about the first statement. It delivers quite a blow before one even speaks!

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